The Michigan hockey team’s storyline against No. 8 Notre Dame hasn’t concluded just yet. The Wolverines went 0-4 against the Fighting Irish in regular season play. But in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, Michigan will get another stab at them.
Notre Dame first swept the Wolverines in November. The second sweep came two weekends ago. The second time, though, wasn’t just another pair of losses. If Michigan had earned four points by the end of that series, it could’ve won the Big Ten regular season and earned a bye-week in the Big Ten Tournament. Instead, the Wolverines traveled back to Ann Arbor frustrated with the quarterfinals looming in front of them.
This Saturday’s game is an opportunity for redemption.
“We get another chance and we’ll be ready,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We’ll have to work on some things this week, but they have to come to Yost.”
Michigan’s Olympians had just rejoined the team before traveling to South Bend at the end of February. After being in Beijing for four weeks, they wanted to play, but their contributions were not enough. The Wolverines’ disjointed roster ultimately faltered, and the Fighting Irish ran away with the sweep.
Michigan has since had time with their entire group for the last two weeks to rekindle that chemistry. They looked sharp in their last series against Michigan State, sweeping the Spartans.
“Our whole team is in a much better place since the first set of games with those guys back,” Pearson said. “We’ve come a long way even though it’s been two weeks. We like a lot of things about our game and we look forward to playing them Saturday.”
The Wolverines don’t plan to change team tactics, instead focusing on their strengths — fast skating, killing penalties and being chippy. Michigan’s chippiness got the best of it against Notre Dame though, earning a major penalty at the end of the first period in Friday night’s game and scraping up seven penalties in the Saturday game.
The chippiness also took players like junior forward Johnny Beecher out of the lineup and made others sit out for long periods of time. Finding rhythm in these moments was the ultimate challenge and the Wolverines will look to fix that.
“That’s one area we have to correct,” Pearson said. “We just played almost a period each night shorthanded and you can’t give that away.”
Michigan’s lines won’t change and it’s silky style will remain. What will have to change is its concentration. In November, senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe’s 15 minute overtime penalty against the Fighting Irish proved costly. It must reject a lack of judgement this time around.
“You have to learn,” Pearson said. “If you don’t learn and keep doing the same thing over and over again, you’re one of two things: dumb as a hockey player or non-coachable. I know our team is not dumb and they’re very coachable.”
The Wolverines have met many expectations this season but a title has aluded them so far. This weekend is a chance to move closer towards securing some coveted hardware and prove they’ve cleaned up their act in the process.