Notebook: Michigan looks to clean up mistakes as Big Ten play looms

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 3, 2014

The Winter Classic and all its surrounding festivities have come and gone in southeast Michigan and with that, the second half of the Michigan hockey team's season has moved into full swing.

The seventh-ranked Wolverines returned to practice Thursday after a disappointing Great Lakes Invitational last weekend that included losses to Western Michigan and Michigan State. Senior captain Mac Bennett says that the lackluster weekend is fully behind the team, and they’re looking forward to getting into the heart of Big Ten play.

“Like every season in any sport, you have your highs and your lows,” Bennett said. “We definitely laid an egg at the GLI, but it’s over with.”

Costly defensive zone breakdowns and squandered goal-scoring opportunities epitomized Michigan’s shortcomings. In this week’s practices, drills have been geared more towards protecting the puck behind the Wolverines’ blue line and breaking out of the zone more effectively.

Without any game action until next weekend’s two-game series at Wisconsin, the extended rest period should give Michigan the chance to recharge its batteries and fine tune some nuances in both zones heading into the new year.

Injury Insight: Freshman defenseman Kevin Lohan began skating for the first time this past week after sustaining a knee injury on Nov. 1 against Michigan Tech. Thursday, Berenson said Lohan “has been making good progress” and that he will be evaluated every two weeks to determine whether or not he can return to the lineup. Despite the optimistic outlook, Berenson couldn’t give a definite timetable for when Lohan will be healthy enough to play.

On the offensive side, freshmen forwards JT Compher and Tyler Motte remain healthy after both were cleared to play in the GLI despite apparent injuries sustained during their time with the USA World Junior Team. Both were sent home after being cut from the final roster.

Compher was rumored to have broken his foot after blocking a shot in training camp on Dec. 16. Though some reports expected he would miss 3-4 weeks, Berenson said he thinks there was a “mix-up” when his injury was first diagnosed.

“All I can say is that his foot wasn’t broken when he got back here,” Berenson said. “I didn’t bring him back here expecting him to be able to play (in the GLI), but once our doctors saw what his situation was, then it changed everything.”

Motte was the final cut on the World Junior roster just the day before the tournament started in Sweden. He had been battling an undisclosed injury, and many reports attribute that to the release. Motte made the flight back to Michigan from Sweden just over 24 hours before the start of the GLI, and he now seems to have made a full recovery.

Red Wearing Red: Berenson made an appearance in the Winter Classic’s Alumni Showdown for the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 31 at Comerica Park as the eldest player. At age 74, he thoroughly impressed fans, teammates and opposing Toronto Maple Leaf legends with his performance.

Embodying his coaching roots, it was Berenson who drew up the final defensive play that capped a 5-4 victory for the Red Wings that afternoon. On and off the ice, Berenson enjoyed playing as much as others marveled at how conditioned he was for his age.

“I think the locker room was fun,” Berenson said. “Getting to see all the guys and talk to them on both teams, and the games, the crowd and the weather, they all cooperated. It was good.”

Berenson also endured the single-digit temperatures at the Winter Classic as a fan on New Year’s Day at the Big House and admired how great the event was for both Michigan and the National Hockey League. His only wish was that Detroit could have came away with the victory.