After the his team’s 4-0 loss to Robert Morris on Oct. 31, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson said he wished the Wolverines could play a game the next weekend.
Instead, the Wolverines had 12 days to prepare for their next opponent, Niagara (0-1-1 Atlantic Hockey Conference, 0-5-2 overall), which they will face Friday at Yost Ice Arena.
But after Michigan’s first loss of the season, the bye week allowed the Wolverines (5-1-1) to regroup and work on individual skills.
“I wish we could’ve come back and played the next weekend coming off the Robert Morris weekend,” Berenson said. “But we couldn’t, so we had to take it the way it’s scheduled.
“I thought (the bye week) was a good combination of improvement and our team getting together with a little less pressure on them. Now we’re getting the team back to game mode this week, and I can feel a better sense of urgency this week from last week.”
In addition to the individual improvement, at least one roster change will be made — senior forward Boo Nieves will return to the lineup after being held out against Robert Morris due to a concussion.
Nieves’ return also allows the Wolverines to keep four separate lines, instead of shuffling players between lines every shift, which should create more fluidity and chemistry among the four lines.
“It’s good to have him back,” said senior forward Justin Selman. “He compliments me and (freshman forward) Kyle Connor very well. Having a guy like him playing in the middle so I can get back on the wing is great too. He brings a lot of speed to our line.”
But for a team that has averaged just under four goals per game, creating offense isn’t the problem. Rather, the problem is that Michigan has also given up an average of four goals per game.
While it hasn’t been entirely the goaltenders’ fault, neither junior Zach Nagelvoort nor senior Steve Racine has been able to establish himself in goal.
“You look at our goalies’ goals-against (average), and it’s too high,” Berenson said. “It’s pretty hard for me to tell you that I like anybody’s game when our save percentage is under .900 and our goals against is over 3.00.”
But if there were any time for one of the goaltenders to get their game going, a game against a winless Niagara team could be it, especially for Nagelvoort. Last time the two squads met in 2013, Nagelvoort earned a 6-0 win for the first shutout of his Michigan career.
In that game, junior forward Tyler Motte had a goal and two assists, while his line mate, junior forward Alex Kile, registered his first goal as a Wolverine.
This time around, the Purple Eagles’ resume doesn’t leave much room for doubt that the result will be any different this time around.
Niagara comes into the game winless after a late Penn State goal denied the Purple Eagles their first win of the season.
The biggest problem Niagara has faced this season, though, is the injury bug, which has forced underclassmen to play big minutes.
One example is in goal, where freshman goaltenders Guillaume Therien and Joe O’Brien have split time between the pipes due to an injury to seasoned veteran Jackson Teichroeb, who started 32 of 37 games for the Purple Eagles last year.
Niagara is also missing its top two centers, TJ Sarcona and Rob Angiolella, as well as a top-four defenseman, Matt Chiarantano.
Despite all of the Purple Eagles’ struggles, Michigan won’t be taking them lightly.
“They’re one of those teams that we don’t see very often, so we don’t know too much of what to expect,” Selman said. “They’re going to be excited to play us on the road, especially at Yost. They’ve tied two good teams in Penn State and Robert Morris, so we definitely can’t take them lightly.”
And the Wolverines shouldn’t, because college hockey is an unpredictable game and anything can happen on any given night.
Michigan will just need to work hard to make Niagara as predictable as possible.