Notebook: Defensive zone remains a concern

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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 13, 2014

For the third period of Saturday’s game against No. 13 Wisconsin, the Michigan hockey team played with just five defensemen. Though the Wolverines started the contest with six, freshman defenseman Nolan de Jong spent the last 20 minutes in the locker room per the discretion of Michigan coach Red Berenson.

According to Berenson, de Jong wasn’t injured, and he had been benched as a result of his performance earlier in the game and during the prior night’s loss.

Paired with junior defenseman Brennan Serville for the weekend, de Jong finished with a minus-five in the plus/minus rankings. Serville and freshman forward JT Compher also finished with the same ranking over the weekend.

On Wisconsin’s second goal of the night, de Jong was beaten by forward Grant Besse, who wrapped around the goal and got a clear look at the net.

De Jong skated in Monday’s practice, where the coaching staff continued to switch up lines during the bye week.

“We just expect him to play solid defensively and make plays with the puck,” Berenson said.

To make matters worse, senior defenseman Mac Bennett didn’t practice Monday because of what Berenson called a “subtle injury.” Berenson later said that Bennett was banged up after the weekend.

Bennett, a captain, has missed just one game this season — an exhibition against the U.S. National Team Development Program in December.

But Berenson said he fully expects Bennett to return to the ice near the end of the week and be ready to go for next weekend’s series against Michigan State.

CAN’T NAG NAGELVOORT: The Wolverines certainly made the series at Wisconsin much tougher for freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.

Time after time, Nagelvoort was left to face breakaway attempts or turn away shots from just in front of the crease, compensating for a defense that made numerous turnovers and looked disorganized.

“Friday was not my best performance,” Nagelvoort said. “I think Saturday was just a much better team game all together. There’s a lot of bounces that I think could have gone either way. I think both games didn’t reflect how close they were.”

Nagelvoort started both games in a series for the first time since Nov. 1-2 against Michigan Tech. Since then, sophomore netminder Stave Racine has split duties in every series.

“I polled all of our coaches, and we all thought we should go back with Nagelvoort and give him a chance to rebound and salvage the weekend,” Berenson said.

Berenson was adamant that the decision doesn’t guarantee Nagelvoort will start in two weeks against Michigan State. But it does provide some confidence for Nagelvoort, who has had to compete for his chance to play for two months.

“It shows that the coaches have some confidence in me, and that’s big for being a young guy,” Nagelvoort said. “To know that they have my back and when I’m in net feels good.”

Nagelvoort currently holds a 2.06 goals-against average and .932 save percentage to rank 14th in the nation.

NO RHYTHM, JUST BLUES: This weekend marks the last bye week the Wolverines will have this year. They’ll play 16 consecutive games to close out the regular season.

But the bye week won’t be all that helpful for Michigan, which has struggled after long breaks.

After their first bye week this year, the Wolverines split a series with Nebraska-Omaha. Following a nearly two-week break in December, Michigan was swept at the Great Lakes Invitational and hasn’t won since.

“You just have to do what the schedule tells you to do,” Berenson said. “We’d like to bounce back and play, but in the meantime, we need to get ramped up for the next stretch of games.

“Maybe you’re better off to take a breather.”