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Road struggles becoming common for Michigan

Paul Sherman/Daily
Michigan coach Red Berenson and the Wolverines are off to a slow start this season, posting a 5-7-1 overall record. Buy this photo

By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 26, 2012

Playing on the road in college hockey is never an easy task — facing the opposing student section’s taunts whenever play ends up in its corner of the ice is tough to handle.

And that’s just one of many obstacles that arise while playing on the road.

Whether it’s that effect or something less tangible, the Michigan hockey team has especially struggled away from Yost Ice Arena this year.

Including the technically neutral-site loss to Cornell on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, Michigan is 0-3-1 away from Yost. The Wolverines have allowed five goals per game and scored just 2.5 goals per game during those four appearances.

Notching the first goal can become a crucial factor in road appearances in order to eliminate the crowd and to gain confidence. But, more often than not, Michigan has allowed the first goal of the game.

“(Allowing the first goal) definitely sets the tone for the rest of the game and that’s something we need to work on,” said freshman forward Boo Nieves. “We’re letting up too many goals early and it definitely needs to change for us to win on the road.”

In the Wolverines’ 5-1 loss to Cornell on Saturday, a rematch from last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Garden didn’t feel like a neutral site. Of the 18,200 people in attendance, the majority were clad in red and white. Michigan (3-5-1 CCHA, 5-7-1 overall) had its fair share of fans there, but considering the Big Red’s home, Ithaca, N.Y., is about six hours closer to Manhattan than Ann Arbor, the discrepancy in numbers wasn’t a big surprise.

One area that has been a constant thorn in the Wolverines’ side is their inability to keep games manageable and within reach. During Michigan’s shootout victory against Northern Michigan on Nov. 2, the Wolverines gave up four second-period goals and managed to rally in the third with three of their own to tie it up. In the series finale against the Wildcats a night later, they trailed 4-1 after the second period, having given up two goals in both frames.

Squaring off against Michigan State on Nov. 10 in East Lansing, the trend continued for Michigan in a sold-out Munn Ice Arena. The Wolverines allowed four first-period goals, three of which came during the initial seven minutes, en route to a 7-2 loss. There have been struggles to find the net during these contests, but defensive-zone coverage has also been a problem, as the team has trouble limiting costly mistakes.

“When you’re trying to come back, you’ve got put your chances in,” Berenson said. “And then you’re going to need some goalkeeping, and you’re going to need your overall team defense to be better.”

Not only is keeping deficits manageable important for Michigan to have a chance at victory, but it is just as important in order to keep the sixth man — the crowd — off the ice. Many college hockey arenas tend to be small and noisy, and when the home team scores early and in bunches, the crowd can deliver a knockout punch to keep the opposing team out of the game.

The Wolverines travel to Ferris State this weekend, where Ewigleben Ice Arena has a reputation for being a difficult place to play. Berenson has recognized the importance of eliminating a boisterous crowd all season on the road, and the Bulldog fans pose exactly that.

“For us to play well in (Ferris State), we need to keep the crowd out of it,” Berenson said. “That means score the first goal and get them on their heels, and keep the momentum from going against you. That’s part of our road mentality.”