Notebook: Riding momentum, Wolverines must remedy road woes

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 12, 2015

The Michigan hockey team has won eight of its past nine games and has scored 5.8 goals per game in five conference matchups, enough to propel it to the top spot in the Big Ten standings. All of that sounds fine, but hardly any of it will matter for the next six weeks.

Why?

The Wolverines have to play games on the road — six of them in the next month — an assignment that has become a bewildering problem for them. Holding a 1-5 record this season in road games, there hasn’t been any rhyme or reason for their shortcomings. Even Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t have an answer for those pesky road woes.

“Whether it’s been special teams, our goalie, our defensive play, we’ve got to get better in our D-zone and our overall defensive game,” Berenson said. “Whether it’s back-checking, penalty killing (or) goalkeeping, I think we’re a better team now, and we’re going on the road, but we’ve got to prove it on Friday.”

Michigan has a real opportunity to distance itself from the rest of the conference if it can crack the code to winning in another team’s barn. Of those six away games, four are against Ohio State and Wisconsin, two teams unable to find any consistency this season.

Spliced between the six true road games are two games against Michigan State at neutral sites. The archrivals will face off at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 30 and at Soldier Field — as part of the Coyote Logistics Hockey City Classic — Feb. 7.

Six games against what have arguably been the conference’s three most underachieving teams typically comprise a slate destined for success.

But the Wolverines are a completely different team on the road, scoring an average of 2.83 goals in those contests while conceding an average of 4.33 per game.

HYMAN HUMMING: Zach Hyman is enjoying a dynamite season at the right time, when Michigan has needed a consistent leader the most.

He broke out last season when Hyman recorded a career-best 17 points (seven goals and 10 assists) in 35 games. This season, he’s already surpassed that in just 19 games, scoring 11 goals to go along with 15 helpers.

“I think it’s his time,” Berenson said. “I predicted before the year that Zach Hyman would have his best year. Right from his freshman year, things didn’t go as well, sophomore year a little better, junior year a big step. And I could just see it coming.”

Last year, a large root of why Michigan failed to live up to expectations was that it lacked a consistent goal scorer, a player to take over when games got tight or when the Wolverines fell behind.

In Friday’s 4-3 overtime win against Minnesota, it was Hyman who delivered a no-look, backhand pass to junior forward Justin Selman, who finished to tie the game with under seven minutes remaining. Hyman finished plus-four on the weekend with two goals, two assists and 12 shots on goal.

“This is a classic case of a college player just developing every year and getting better, and now he’s coming into his own,” Berenson said. “Everything comes together — your strength, your experience, your confidence, your role on the team — and he’s ready now to handle a role that he wasn’t ready to handle as a freshman or a sophomore.”

TROUBLE FOR TRAVIS: In the second period of Saturday’s 7-5 win over Minnesota, senior forward Travis Lynch laid out to block a shot and was immediately shaken up. Lynch didn’t play the rest of the game, and Berenson said in the postgame press conference that it didn’t look good for Lynch.

On Monday, Berenson confirmed that Lynch suffered a broken right hand, and that he’ll be sidelined for at least one month, meaning that the earliest he could return to the lineup would be Feb. 13 at Minnesota.

Lynch had been enjoying great success on the fourth line, scoring five goals and recording two assists this season. More importantly, Lynch is a critical part of the Wolverine penalty-killing unit. He will be sorely missed, especially for a group that has just recently found some consistency.