On Ice Hockey: Disappointing split creates more questions for Icers

BY GJON JUNCAJ
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 19, 2009

“That’s hard for us to understand, that a team is a lot better than their record.” — Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson

“Nobody wanted to play (Friday).” — Michigan acting captain Chris Summers

“We don’t know from week to week what we’re going to get.” — Berenson

With a disappointing weekend split against Bowling Green, Michigan sits in sixth place in the CCHA standings. And 24 games into the season, the Wolverines remain their own worst enemy.

During the first period Friday, Michigan looked nothing like a team that had outscored opponents 30-6 in its six previous games. The Wolverines were uncharacteristically sluggish, struggling to get to the net and pressure Falcon goalie Jimmy Spratt.

By the end of the first frame, the Wolverines had just four shots on goal and matched their second-lowest output in a period this season.

Michigan woke up after the intermission. In the final five periods of the weekend, Michigan outshot Bowling Green 64-33, but just one of those shots found the back of the net.

"We had good scoring chances," sophomore defenseman Chad Langlais, who scored the Wolverines' only goal of the weekend, said after Saturday's 1-0 victory. "I wouldn't call them quality. I think we only had a few quality ones. We did enough to win, I guess."

That was against a Falcon team that is next-to-last in the conference in scoring defense.

Bowling Green is ninth in penalty-kill percentage, but Michigan went scoreless in 13 power play opportunities. Spratt entered the weekend with a .882 save-percentage. Against the Wolverines, he stopped 67 of 68 shots.

While Michigan didn't have any puck luck around the net last weekend, there was a noticeable difference in intensity levels between games. The Wolverines statistically dominated Saturday and forced the Falcons to scramble in their own zone all night.

All the energy the Falcons spent diving in front of shots and fighting for loose pucks along the boards seemed to drain them. Bowling Green had a 6-on-4 man advantage for a 70-second stretch the final moments but only mustered two shots.

Berenson and Langlais said physical one-goal victories on the road can only help the team, and that’s absolutely true, no matter the opponent. But Saturday’s hard-fought win remains overshadowed by Friday’s shutout loss.

From the players’ standpoint, the better team did not show up for Friday’s opening faceoff.

“I don’t think you even have to be on the team to tell there was something wrong,” Summers said. “Whether it was guys being too loose or talking about the wrong things, it’s a combination of a lot of different things.

“It’s kind of a personal thing. Some guys still have to be loose before the game. No matter what you do, you have to do it. Not everyone was ready.”

Summers said he hoped Friday’s loss wasn’t due to simply overlooking an inferior opponent. He acknowledged the possibility that the team was still riding high from its sweep of Miami (Ohio) last weekend and that “maybe we were a little loose in practice.”

Whatever the reason for the Wolverines’ performance Friday night, it’s clear they haven’t completely solved their problems regarding mental preparation. And there’s not much time left for introspection.

Michigan has 12 games left in the regular season, six against teams above them in the conference standings. Just five points separate the Wolverines from second-place Miami. Despite their puzzling season, Michigan is still in excellent position to nab a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament in March.

But with two-thirds of the season behind them, the Wolverines still have plenty of questions to answer. Have they finally learned their lesson?

“I hope so,” senior goaltender Billy Sauer said Saturday. “I think everybody gets the picture. And whether we do what we say, we’ll find out next weekend. I think we will. I think it really opened our eyes this weekend.”