Seven games into the season last year, the Michigan hockey team was working with a 5-1-1 record. It was an early indicator of the potential it had that would lead it all the way to the NCAA Midwest Regional Final. The Wolverines hadn’t even created their lethal first line consisting of forwards Tyler Motte, Kyle Connor and J.T. Compher, but they still managed to rack up five wins in their first seven games.
This season, though, Michigan is off to a slower start.
The No. 17 Wolverines sit at 3-3-1 roughly a fifth of the way into their season. They have three losses at the hands of Union (three weeks ago) and Vermont and Dartmouth (this past weekend).
In certain areas of Michigan’s stats so far, the reasons for these losses are evident. The Wolverines have totaled just 156 shots so far this season, while their opponents have generated 256. In the same span last year, they had won the shots battle, 285-195.
They’ve totaled 42 penalties in seven games, with an average of 6 per game — 50 percent more than early in last year. However, their opponents combined have scored just 36. And for two of these three losses, Michigan wasn’t able to hang onto an early lead to clinch a win.
These traits have been clear since the season opener against Union, and they were still present in the Wolverines’ most recent game. Against the Big Green, Michigan ended the game trailing by 11 shots. And despite tying up the game in the second period, the Wolverines allowed a late Dartmouth goal, securing their third loss of the season.
“We just kind of said we’ve done way too much talking this year and not enough showing it on the ice and showing it in our play,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “I think, like I said, we did a really good job. We did. Especially in that first play coming out and showing that we had something to prove, and we obviously couldn’t maintain that style of play throughout the entire game.
“But we did come out with some excitement and we did come out like we had something to prove. So, like I said, it wasn’t the entire 60 minutes like we needed, but it was a good sign going forward.”
Despite these problem areas, though, Michigan is capitalizing on its silver linings. The Wolverines’ goaltending, for example, boasts a .934 save percentage overall, much better than their opponents’ .885 and their own .882 from the first seven games of last season. All three Michigan goaltenders that have seen action this season have above a .900 save percentage, with a collective total of 239 saves this season.
Penalty kills have also been a high point for the Wolverines this year. Just this past weekend, senior forwards Alex Kile and Max Shuart both found themselves in the penalty box during the second period against the Big Green. Even though Dartmouth had a two-man advantage, it wasn’t able to capitalize. In these tight plays, the Wolverines have shown that they can secure the defense.
Michigan has a lot it needs to work on, but it’s not without its strengths. And since the Wolverines have acknowledged their downfalls early this season, it gives them a chance to fix their mistakes and capitalize on their positives before the bigger games roll around later in the season.