Wolverines fail to capitalize on chances, fall in exhibition opener

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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 6, 2013

Just over three minutes into the third period, sophomore forward Boo Nieves waited outside the left circle for the puck. As it slid his way from behind the net, he wound his stick up and fired a shot that deflected off the goaltender to the left and into the boards.

An audible groan followed as Nieves skated back with a grimace, forced to regroup. He was no closer than before to tying the game at two.

Like many of his teammates, Nieves would come close, but not close enough to capitalize on chances as the No. 11 Michigan hockey team fell in its exhibition opener to Waterloo (Ont.), 2-1.

“I’m not really that discouraged,” said senior defenseman Mac Bennett. “We just played nine freshmen, who have never played college hockey before, so I think we did OK.

“I think there were a lot of offensive chances, but we just have to bury those chances.”

The Wolverines finished with 35 shots on net compared to Waterloo’s 22, a stat that doesn’t include their advantage in time of possession. Though Michigan maintained a forecheck and dominated possession, it was outmuscled at the net and unable to grab rebound chances.

“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.”

Michigan’s offense impressed early in the game by firing shot after shot, a sign that the unit was as strong as had been rumored. But each time there was a chance, the Wolverines were left to regroup in the offensive zone to go through the same process that had put them there.

Waterloo got on the board first midway through the opening period when sophomore goaltender Steve Racine made an initial save that was deflected back up the middle. The Warriors’ Andy Smith found the open half of the net when he reached the deflection.

Racine played half of the game, finishing with 11 saves and two goals allowed before making way for freshman Zach Nagelvoort. A late commit to this year’s team, Nagelvoort stopped nine shots in his exhibition debut.

“You can’t do everything as a goalie, and we’ve got to give (Racine) a little more protection,” Berenson said.

Michigan came out of the locker room for the second period looking more energized, and it wasted little time in scoring. Waterloo goaltender Justin Leclerc brought the puck out from behind the net following a clearance, but a handling error allowed sophomore forward Andrew Copp to knock in the loose puck.

But the Warriors grabbed the lead for good, 11 minutes later, after a 4-on-3 breakaway attempt that was originally stopped by Racine again but was knocked in by Smith.

“When you play from behind sometimes it’s harder to score, we just couldn’t get that goal we needed,” Berenson said. “Had we gotten the lead against them, it could have been a different game, but when you’re playing from behind at home, it takes away from your home ice.”

The Wolverines’ struggles to capitalize extended to the power play, which went 0-for-5.

Waterloo doesn’t boast National Hockey League prospects and draft picks like upcoming opponents Boston College or Massachusetts-Lowell. Rather, it has some former members of the Canadian Hockey League, whose careers are coming to a close.

Senior goaltender Adam Janecyk is the oldest player on the team, and the only one born prior to 1991. The Warriors didn’t release the date of birth for each player on their roster but were several years older, for the most part.

“They’re probably two years older per man than our team,” Berenson said. “That’s not an excuse, but like I told our guys, they’re older, stronger and more experienced than we are, and we’re going to really have to play well.”