It wouldn’t sound like it from the way he referred to his struggling hockey team as a “train wreck,” but Michigan coach Red Berenson is being cautiously optimistic about this weekend’s trip to Lake Superior State.
In his 28 years at the helm, Berenson has seen teams who he never imagined would win another game do just that. And though the number of opportunities for Michigan to turn things around this season is starting to dwindle, he still believes that this year’s team — sitting towards the bottom of the CCHA with a 4-10-2 conference record — can make strides in Sault Ste. Marie.
“I think we’re challenged and we’re pushing,” Berenson said. “We’re trying to get this train back on the tracks. It’s not the start of the season, but we’ve got to start somewhere. Right now, we’re going to try and make it a new start.”
There’s been so much negative attention surrounding the program the past few months, so forgive Berenson if he tries to find any kind of positive aspects heading into the weekend.
But there have been some positives. Though the overall team results haven’t been anywhere near Michigan’s usually high standards, there have still been a few bright spots and commendable individual efforts across the board.
Three forwards — senior Kevin Lynch, sophomore Zach Hyman and freshman Andrew Copp — were singled out as players who have effectively created offensive opportunities, forechecked well and battled hard, even without the puck.
However, as Berenson points out, it doesn’t matter what these players are doing well, if the rest of the Wolverines can’t build off the available chances. Still, he’s trying to walk the line between being harsh enough while not being disparaging.
“Anything (the players) get is something they deserved,” Berenson said. “If you start getting personal with them, the only thing they can go on is what they’ve done, and I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not good enough. This team is going to have to suck it up and take the heat.”
The freshman class is the one expected to suck it up the most. In the past, rookie standouts have usually been the ones to carry the forward corps. With Copp already carrying a lot of the offensive grunt work and forward Boo Nieves tied for second in the team for points, Berenson is looking to them to continue and enhance their already high standard of play.
Michigan usually prefers to have the brunt of the road trips comes in the first half of the season — that way the team can build camaraderie while traveling early in the year, and then use that to finish out the season strong with a majority of homestands.
Instead, the Wolverines have just three more games at Yost Ice Arena this season, though they know they haven’t taken full advantage of home ice. And yet, they still have yet to register a win on the road this season — a challenge that won’t be made easier by the fact that the Lakers hold a marginal 22-18-3 series lead over Michigan when playing in Taffy Abel Arena.
None of the Wolverines want to admit that leaving Ann Arbor for a series could be a good thing, but at this point, any kind of variation could be an effective catalyst for change.
“Going on the road, that’s all you have, seeing your team,” said senior forward A.J. Treais. “You don’t have any fans in your favor … all you’ve got is your buddies, and maybe that’s something that can change (the season). Obviously, we’ve been struggling here at Yost, so any change is good.”