A week ago, the Michigan hockey team was swept in Madison by No. 19 Wisconsin, losing 5-2 and 6-4. And after a week of practice, the Wolverines will be back on the road when they travel to Columbus for their final regular-season road trip.
Michigan (2-10-2 Big Ten, 9-16-3 overall) will face No. 12 Ohio State on Friday and Saturday for the second time this season. After the two-game series, the Wolverines will return to Yost the following week to close the regular season with a home series against No. 11 Penn State.
Michigan split its first series matchup with Ohio State (7-6-1, 16-8-6) the first weekend of February, winning the first game, 5-4, and falling in the second, 6-5. While the first game proved that the Wolverines could top a ranked opponent, they struggled with the Buckeyes’ offense and were unable to record what would have been their first sweep of the season.
“They’re a really good offensive team, we know that,” said sophomore forward Cooper Marody. “They have a ton of guys with great skill. They have an unbelievable power play, so definitely a key for the weekend is staying out of the box and really competing. If it’s in front of the net to box out a guy or just battling in the corner, it’s going to be really important.”
In each game of the first series, four different players from the Buckeyes’ roster scored, highlighting the depth in their lineup.
But possibly the biggest factor in Ohio State’s success stemmed from its power play, which proved to be instrumental in both games. The Buckeyes capitalized on man-up advantages throughout the series, scoring seven power-play goals on the weekend.
“It is a concern, and I think we learned from it,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I thought we were a lot better last week, we worked on it last week and we’ll work on it a little bit tomorrow. But an important thing is to stay out of the penalty box.
“We ended up taking 14 penalties that weekend. This past weekend, we gave up one power-play goal on Friday and then a shorthanded goal, but we only had to kill six penalties the whole weekend. We’ve got to stay out of the box.”
This past weekend against the Badgers, Michigan showed signs of improvement despite the losses. The penalty kill limited Wisconsin to a single power-play goal, and time in the penalty box drastically decreased.
In addition to the penalty kill, other improvements were made throughout the game to give the Wolverines an edge.
“I thought we had a lot of improvement in our game,” Berenson said. “Whether it was our forecheck, coming out on the ice, managing the puck better, getting shots on the net, creating scoring chances, giving up fewer chances. We were a better team than the score gave us credit for at the end of the game. We didn’t finish the game as strong as we needed to, and that’s going to be another challenge for us.”
In one of its last few chances this season to notch a Big Ten win, Michigan will have to display all of these improvements together — and it’ll be necessary facing a team like Ohio State.