- Erin Kirkland/Daily
BY LIZ NAGLE
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 12, 2012
After dropping the home opener due to overwhelming defensive woes on Thursday, the Michigan hockey team came back with a vengeance.
Rochester Institute of Technology handed the Wolverines a late, and seemingly unexpected, comeback defeat on Thursday with a trio of goals in the final frame to knot the score at four. The Tigers stole a quick victory — 14 seconds into overtime, RIT forward Adam Hartley netted the game-winning tally.
Michigan coach Red Berenson may not have explicitly blamed freshman goalie Jared Rutledge for the slew of pucks that snuck between the posts, but his decision to switch in freshman Steve Racine on Friday in the series was telling.
“I thought it was the right thing to do,” Berenson said. “Rutledge was fighting it a little bit. … It was easy for me to put Racine in. He’s an older goalie and he needed to show what he can do.
“He’s had to fight adversity in a lot of situations. He was ready.”
Berenson liked what he saw from Racine in Michigan’s 7-2 victory after the freshman allowed just two pucks to find the back of the net.
“All I ask of our goalies is eliminate the bad goals,” Berenson said. “Make the saves you can make every day in practice. Eliminate the bad goals, and if you do that you’ll have success here and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Berenson believes Rutledge didn’t play to his full potential on Thursday. The young netminder gave up three third-period goals and posted a meager .808 save percentage in the season-opening loss.
Rutledge missed crucial ice time and couldn’t start taking shots until the near start of the preseason due to eye surgery. Berenson, however, spoke highly of the Chicago native before his regular-season debut on Thursday, and expectations remain high.
Though Rutledge was tagged with his first career loss and Racine with the victory against the Tigers, neither quite compare to the stellar results that came with last season’s starter — then-senior Shawn Hunwick. Hunwick notched 1,092 saves and and 24 wins while posting a .932 save percentage last year.
But in a situation of lingering uncertainty and a pair of less experienced goaltenders, Rutledge and Racine are both vying for the starting plug between the pipes.
“Rutledge is a better goalie than he showed,” Berenson said. “I think they’re going to battle for the number one spot.”
GOALIE SWAPS: Splitting the contests against RIT, Michigan proved its netminder decision still has a few adjustments to come. Fortunately for the Wolverines, RIT was struck with a similar problem.
With the graduation of last season’s standout goalie Shane Madolora, the Tigers are left with an inexperienced crop.
Despite the lack of ice time, Josh Watson manned the goal on Thursday, recording 40 saves against Michigan. Only playing in three contests last year, Watson posted a team-best average of 1.63 goals per game, and he earned this season’s first victory.
Nevertheless, RIT called on Jordan Ruby for Friday’s matchup.
Ruby gave up 12 goals in the four games he played last season, and the Wolverines stormed the goalie by surprise, knocking seven pucks in the net.
With back-to-back goals in the first period, one in the second and a straight four in the third, Michigan overpowered Ruby to rebound from the home-opener loss.
INJURY NOTES: Michigan’s defensive corps was highly touted at the start of the season. But with just two games behind them, the Wolverines are rapidly losing their structure.
Junior defenseman Jon Merrill suffered a cracked seventh vertebrae in a collision with the boards during Tuesday’s exhibition against Windsor.
On Friday, junior defenseman Kevin Clare was escorted off the ice in the third period with an athletic trainer supporting his right arm.
Though he’s unsure of the severity, Berenson expressed his concern for Clare.
“I haven’t talked to the doctor,” Berenson said. “I’m not pleased — I’m worried about him.”
Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba gives the team confidence in its defensive capabilities with a goal and a pair of blocks against the Tigers. But Clare, who recently replaced Merrill in a pairing with Trouba, signifies the weakening of the Wolverines’ boasted strong suit.