It was expected that the Michigan hockey team would fall on some hard times this year. What wasn’t expected was that those times would come so soon. But after falling to Vermont and Dartmouth last weekend, the Wolverines (3-3-1) are now in that situation.
After its struggles on the East Coast, the team will now look to right the ship on the other side of the country against Arizona State (1-7-0), a team in just its second year as a program.
Michigan’s most glaring issues this season have come on the offensive end of the ice — it has been outshot in every game this season. The Sun Devils, though, have given up at least four goals in every game but one this season. So if there’s any team that can ease the Wolverines’ offensive woes, it’s Arizona State.
“We know we’ve made way too many mistakes to be a good team, and way too many mistakes for a Michigan team,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “But we’re building on the positives we had (from last weekend), and we’re improving the things that we didn’t do as well.”
The bright spot for Michigan so far this season has been its goaltenders — specifically freshmen Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne. Each started a game last weekend, and though neither earned a win, they both faced a minimum of 35 shots apiece, and Lavigne set a career high with 39 saves.
But the number of shots that the goalies have faced this season is troubling to say the least. Though the netminders have been good enough to keep their team in games so far, that level of play can’t be expected to last all season. Their defensive troubles have led to a multitude of line changes and goaltender rotations already this year, something Michigan coach Red Berenson sees as a necessity for now.
“We wouldn’t change our lines if we were playing really well, unless there was an injury,” Berenson said. “We just don’t think our lines are playing well enough to leave them together game after game or period after period if they’re not playing well. We have too many growing pains right now to just stay with them … I know that as a player it’s usually a wake-up call when we’d change our lines, so I’d have to refocus and regroup. Same thing with our goalies.”
Michigan realizes it won’t be an easy season, and its road ahead looks even tougher. After the Wolverines return from Arizona, they will have to prepare for No. 4 Boston University. But with its seniors leading the way, Michigan has a renewed sense of urgency to improve quickly.
“(We have the) opportunity to put the Block ‘M’ only a finite number of times for the rest of the year,” De Jong said. “It’s something we’ve got to be able to put on the line every single night, and I think the seniors realize that. We’re trying to move that message on to younger guys.”
Added Berenson: “We haven’t played the kind of hockey that I think our players think we can play, or the coaches think we can play. We’ve got to build whatever identity that is. Our next game is our best chance to take a step in that direction.”