- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 22, 2014
There’s been a sense of urgency buzzing through Yost Ice Arena this week.
“I can feel it myself,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I think our whole team feels it. They look better today than yesterday, and better yesterday than last Saturday.”
Some of that buzz might have something to do with its opponent, though.
The No. 14 Michigan hockey team (2-2 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) will play a two-game series against Michigan State on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and Friday in East Lansing. The Wolverines are winless in their last five games.
Looking to avenge a rather embarrassing defeat, and with aspirations to climb back atop the Big Ten title race, there’s much more at stake than statewide bragging rights.
The Spartans (2-2-2, 8-10-3) come into the weekend riding the high point of their season — a 3-1-2 mark in the past six games — including a 3-0 win over Michigan on Dec. 28 in the Great Lakes Invitational. Anchored by sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand, Michigan State’s defense has been its backbone during the recent string of success, ranking 12th nationally in goals against by allowing an average of 2.33 goals each game.
“Obviously they have a good goaltender, and we got shutout last time,” said sophomore forward Andrew Copp. “So that’ll be a key to our game.”
In the other crease, freshman Zach Nagelvoort matches up nicely with Hildebrand, actually edging him out in save percentage and goals-against average. The problem for the young netminder is that he isn’t getting any help.
Nearly two weeks ago, Michigan scored three goals in two games at Wisconsin. That didn’t quite scream success, especially when the Wolverines conceded five on Friday and three more Saturday.
“You’re not going to win any games doing that,” Berenson said.
And they haven’t. During the program’s current winless streak — its longest since 2011, including last season’s losing record — Michigan has scored just seven goals. To put things in perspective, the Wolverines scored 19 in the four games beforehand, and they won all of them.
Sometimes, the chances have been copious, but finishing them has been more of a concern. At Wisconsin, though, Michigan failed to get pucks deep and played in their own zone for what seemed like minutes at a time.
Berenson’s offense needs a little kick, and he’s tinkered with lines in practice this week in hopes to re-ignite some early season fire.
Thursday, Copp will likely be centering a line with junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe and sophomore forward Boo Nieves. Copp has been on a tear with eight points — six goals and two assists — in his past seven games.
“This will give Boo maybe a fresh start playing with someone he’s played a lot with,” Berenson said. “He played a lot with Phillip most of last year. Copp, who is playing with a lot of confidence right now, I think he’ll be a good leader on that line.”
Nieves has had a slow start to his sophomore campaign, but his speed and goal-scoring abilities would certainly provide that extra punch Berenson’s been looking for. In fact, it might be most appropriate for Nieves to break out of that shell this weekend. Last season, he tallied eight points in six games against the Spartans.
He and the rest of the underclassmen know about the magnitude of this rivalry. Copp used the well-known little brother reference this week, but paused for a moment when asked if Michigan was better than Michigan State on paper.
“We’re confident that we can beat those guys every night,” he concluded.