Michigan’s penalty kill shines, power play falters in exhibition loss to Waterloo

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 6, 2013

Special teams were both a blessing and a curse for the No. 11 Michigan hockey team in its 2-1 exhibition loss to Waterloo (Ont.) on Sunday.

The Wolverines were unblemished on the penalty kill, erasing all three of its minor penalties with ease, but the strong defensive effort was in sharp contrast to Michigan’s 0-for-5 mark on the power play.

While shorthanded, the Wolverines created multiple odd-man rushes that generated more scoring chances than the Warriors could muster with the man advantage. One of the most promising of those opportunities came when junior defenseman Mike Chiasson found himself on a breakaway out of the box just seconds after his penalty expired, but he was tripped up in front of the crease before he could get a shot off.

In the defensive zone, Michigan rarely allowed Waterloo to get organized on the power play. The goaltenders, sophomore Steve Racine and freshman Zach Nagelvoort, split time and were hardly tested on the penalty kill thanks to strong play in front of the crease.

Michigan coach Red Berenson shuffled the penalty-kill lines throughout the evening, trying to find combinations that will work best moving forward. Multiple freshmen were mixed into the equation, including defensemen Michael Downing and Kevin Lohan.

Berenson made no promises as to which group will be the go-to quartet with the Wolverines down a man, but liked what he saw from the experimenting.

“The penalty killing was good,” Berenson said. “This time of year, your power play is probably less in sync than your penalty killing. We couldn’t make really good plays, and neither could they. I think the (penalty kill) has the advantage this time of year.”

Most of the offensive woes the Wolverines experienced Sunday can be attributed to being held scoreless on the man advantage. Michigan put plenty of shots on the pair of Waterloo netminders, who also split time, but failed to convert its handful of quality chances into goals.

Entering the zone on the power play wasn’t the problem, and movement in the offensive zone looked smooth and organized. The Wolverines just struggled to find ways to finish.

“I thought we moved it really, really well,” said senior defenseman Mac Bennett. “Everything seemed like it was tape to tape, and it was moving fast. When you get pucks to the net, chances are it’s not going to be a clean goal, so rebounds, tips, whatever it takes. We have to find a way to put it in.”

Michigan had multiple unlucky bounces on the power play, which certainly contributed to the offensive shortcomings. None of those were more tantalizing than a pass that hopped over freshman forward Evan Allen’s stick in the final minute, squandering the chance of a potential equalizer.

On the power play, the Wolverines should benefit from creating more traffic in front of the net. Keeping up a pace of 35 shots on net each game won’t hurt, either.

“We just need to bear down and be stronger in front of the net,” said sophomore forward Andrew Copp. “I didn’t think we got enough guys in front of the net, but we had tons of 2-on-1s, tons of shots, and their goalie played well, so give him credit. Going strong to the front of the net will be huge going forward.”

Optimism continues to radiate from Yost Ice Arena for a Michigan team that had nine freshmen suit up for their first college game. The signs are there that this team isn’t the same one that plummeted from a No. 5 preseason ranking last season.

Berenson and Bennett had high praise for the play of the freshmen class, and rightly so. The Wolverines will aim to mesh the offense together quickly, though, with the season-opening matchup against No. 4 Boston College looming Thursday.