By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 27, 2012
Red Berenson’s not the type to call a game a must-win if it isn’t one, and that’s exactly how the Michigan coach referred to his team’s 4-3 loss to Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.
“We’re in the CCHA right now. We’re playing for first place,” Berenson said. “We’re trying to be as high as we can, and Miami is too. These games are huge. We split these games at home. You can’t do that. You’ve got to win your home games. … It’s not acceptable.”
The three crucial league points that the Wolverines are going to so badly need in a matter of months slipped away in a matter of seconds in the series finale — 161 of them, to be exact.
“We can’t get these points back in March,” junior defenseman Mac Bennett said. “Every weekend we play … we want to take all the points that we can. That’s going to sting a little bit but, like I said, we’ve just got to pick it up.”
It wasn’t so much the fact that the third-period lead evaporated — the 2-1 advantage never felt safe — but rather the alarming speed with which it did.
Michigan hardly had time to react before it’s one-goal advantage turned into a two-goal deficit. It wasn’t insurmountable, but it would’ve taken the firepower that the team across the rink showed instead to overcome.
As Berenson noted, Michigan has to protect its home ice. If history is any indication, this bunch won’t be road warriors. Last season, the Wolverines finished with a sub-.500 record in true away games.
This was a major missed opportunity for Michigan to become the pacesetter in the CCHA. Instead of staring down at all but lone conference unbeaten Notre Dame, the Wolverines are now jockeying for position with, well, just about everyone.
Michigan’s schedule is front-loaded with home games this year. That means the Wolverines can’t afford many missteps like they suffered Saturday night. If they can’t hold serve, they can’t possibly expect to make up the necessary ground in the second half when they play a stretch of four out of five series on the road.
Next weekend presents Michigan with a chance to do what it couldn’t last year — win on the road.
Marquette, Mich., where the Wolverines will face Northern Michigan twice, is a strange place. Goaltenders turn into boxers like Shawn Hunwick did last season. Points are hard to come by. Last year, the Wolverines took only two out of six in Marquette. And this year, Northern Michigan is much improved from the mediocre team it was last year.
There are no easy points the rest of the way. And when the road games are a crapshoot, split weekends just don’t get the job done at home. Split series don’t win CCHA titles. Ferris State, last year’s champion, lost just four games at home all year. And this is the earliest Michigan has lost two games at home since 2001-02.
The Wolverines simply aren’t accustomed to losing at Yost. If they make a habit out of it, it could be a long first half to the season.