MADISON — Eight seconds into Saturday’s game, Wisconsin forward Trent Frederic scored. After that, it was a game of catch up.
Two Michigan forwards — freshman James Sanchez and junior Cutler Martin — each scored a goal afterward to put the Wolverines’ hockey team in the lead. And then the Badgers scored two goals, and Michigan scored one of its own, and on it went until Wisconsin finally claimed the game at the end of the third period, 6-4.
It was the Badgers’ second win of the weekend, sweeping the Wolverines (2-10-2-2 Big Ten, 9-16-3 overall) with a similar 5-2 win on Friday.
Both losses were tough to absorb. Despite the sweep, though, certain aspects of Michigan’s game appeared better this weekend than it has in the past.
“We did some good things and we have to keep building on the good things,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “And we’ve got to eliminate the not-so-good things. … Our mistakes are too costly. I don’t think we’re playing high-risk hockey, I think we’re playing the right way. Right now we’re just not good enough.
“We’re not deep enough, we’re not good enough, and defensively it’s showing up. I mean, we scored four goals on the road. Most years that’s going to win you a game, but not this year.”
In a season in which the Wolverines had established an unfavorable early trend of being outshot by the majority of their opponents, the past few weeks have shown improvement. On Saturday, Michigan outshot Wisconsin 38-29. Last Friday, it outshot Michigan State, 31-19. And the Friday before, it topped Ohio State with 38 shots compared to the Buckeyes’ 29.
It’s not perfect and it isn’t happening every game. But in comparison to earlier in the season, when the Badgers outshot the Wolverines 41-21 and 35-19, or when then-No. 6 Penn State outshot them 58-23 and 48-29, it’s definitely an improvement.
The youth of the team has proven to be imperative to the team’s growth, as the freshman forward duo of Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood are No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in points, respectively. Lockwood is also second in goals with seven, while Slaker is in a three-way tie for third with six.
Special teams have also improved for Michigan. At the beginning of the year, its penalty kill was ranked, but that ranking has since fallen. The decline came to a low-point two weeks ago when the Wolverines faced No. 11 Ohio State and gave up seven power-play goals over the course of two games. But this weekend, the penalty kill stepped back up, allowing only a single power-play goal.
“Special teams, we were good,” Berenson said. “The power play was pretty good. The penalty killing was pretty good. They’ve got a dangerous power play, they ended up scoring, but they’re going to get their chances. I thought it was a step forward for our special teams.”
But even with improvements, Michigan still isn’t recording wins. Turnovers and defensive lapses marred the Wolverines’ performances this weekend and left them struggling to catch up with the Badgers in a lopsided back-and-forth series.
And consistency hasn’t been friendly to Michigan this year, providing yet another hurdle for the team to overcome before it can tally any additional wins.
Overall, the past weekend provided insight into the progress the Wolverines have made this season. They’re better than they have been — but they still weren’t good enough to record their first sweep of the season.
“I thought we played a pretty good game, and I’m tired of saying it with the result we’re getting,” Berenson said. “We can’t outscore our mistakes. We did a lot of good things, we missed some chances we needed in the last minute before they got the empty-net goal. Sanchez had a rebound chance. If that goes in, the game is tied up again. But that’s what we’re doing, we’re chasing our mistakes.”