Wolverines riding confidence to Joe Louis Arena

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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 18, 2013

The Michigan hockey team’s current miracle run through the CCHA Tournament might appear like it has come out of nowhere, but Michigan coach Red Berenson has seen the Wolverines’ resurgence coming for a while.

It all goes back to Michigan’s series against Notre Dame in February in which the Wolverines were outscored 13-8. Though the Fighting Irish blew Michigan out of the water, that was the moment Berenson realized the then-floundering squad was finally turning it around.

“We scored eight (goals) and our power play scored three,” Berenson said. “We did a lot of good things. I could see our team playing better but not good enough. I think there was something going on. We weren’t that far off. We just needed to put a full game together.”

Michigan has gone undefeated since that weekend, riding high on momentum to its 24th consecutive trip to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals.

Junior forward Luke Moffatt saw the turnaround coming long before the Notre Dame weekend — he says it goes all the way back to a Dec. 15 victory over Western Michigan. But even though that 2-0 shutout was the best the Wolverines had played up to that point, team chemistry wasn’t quite where it needed to be to translate into more wins.

“It really just took us longer than usual this year to come together,” Moffatt said. “We’re just playing more as a team, as a unit now. Everyone’s buying into the system.”

It’s certainly easier to maintain a positive mentality with a winning streak.

At this point, there aren’t many on-ice aspects of the game that Michigan needs to perfect. Goaltending is no longer a question mark now that freshman Steve Racine has stepped up and the defense is finally blocking pucks to protect the crease. All that remains is carrying the heightened confidence through Joe Louis Arena — a mentality that is perhaps the key to success.

“The big part of the game, every player will tell you, is mental,” Berenson said. “So, what has changed? It’s obviously on the ice. Part of it might be off-the-ice determination, frustration or motivation. That’s sports.”

All season long, Berenson has looked to the upperclassmen — such as senior captains A.J. Treais or Lee Moffie — to guide the Wolverines through their rough patches. But that proved difficult considering the seniors themselves were also struggling to improve individually.

Now, though, Michigan’s leadership has worked out the blips in its game and it’s started setting better examples on the ice. That work ethnic has quickly become contagious.

“You’ve got to do (work) on the ice before you’re going to get legitimate confidence,” Berenson said. “Sometimes if you’re not doing it, you see someone else doing it and that gets you going. That’s what leadership is all about.”

Berenson said he’s coached teams that he never thought would win another game into squads he never thought could lose another game. Right now, he believes this year’s edition of the Wolverines might shape out the same way.

The players are starting to see that, too.

“We’re really having a ton more fun now,” Moffatt said. “Not just because of the success, but because of the way we’re playing. We’re playing for each other and for the team.”