In the waning seconds of the first period of the Michigan hockey team’s matchup with Alaska on Saturday night, with the Wolverines trailing by two, sophomore forward Alex Guptill found himself with the puck in front of an empty Nanook goal. John Keeney was caught behind his net after trying to distribute the puck, leaving Guptill with nothing but a wide-open goal to score on.
Or, rather, a wide-open goal to miss. Because it was just that kind of night for Michigan. Despite outshooting Alaska, 31-28, the Wolverines struggled to find twine, even when it was practically handed to them on a silver platter.
“It can be a little bit of bad luck,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “(Alaska’s) goalie made a couple of really good saves, and then we had a couple of chances that we should have scored on, but didn’t. Obviously we’re not having a lot of offensive confidence.”
From the coach’s vantage point, Guptill’s misstep was just a bad bounce — the puck seemed to jump off his stick the wrong way. But even in other instances — especially on the power play — shots went wide, passes missed teammates perfectly situated right in front of the crease or a mishandling of the puck would turn it over to the Nanooks just when Keeney was out of position.
The picture-perfect opportunities to score on Saturday were a far cry from Friday night’s game, where instead, the best looks at goal came from a more scrappy style of play. In one instance, a scrum of players scrambling around the net until freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba finally managed to knock it in.
With the offense lacking firepower and not able to capitalize when presented with opportune scoring chances, these kinds of garbage goals are becoming increasingly important as one of the few ways for the Wolverines to put points on the board.
“When we’re in a slump like this, we can’t make pretty plays,” said senior forward Kevin Lynch. “Those plays don’t always go in. But (Friday), we had a lot of goals that were in-front-of-the-net garbage goals, and that’s how we’re going to pull out a win.”
YEARNING FOR YOST: The conclusion of this weekend’s series starts a brutal road stretch for the Wolverines — who have yet to win on the road this year —against some of the CCHA’s top teams.
The players and coaches are open to talk about how special of an environment Yost Ice Arena is — in fact, having what is sometimes dubbed the toughest arena in college hockey as a home rink is one of the program’s big selling points.
But it’s also no secret that the Wolverines haven’t made the most of their home-ice advantage, going a pitiful 6-8 there so far this season — and have just three more home games remaining — leaving Berenson to ponder if this year’s team has taken some of the intimidation factor out of Yost for visiting squads.
“We haven’t given our home rink the kind of hockey that we have to,” Berenson said. “It’s all about our game, and it’s pretty hard for our fans and our rink to be intimidating when we’re behind in the game.”
INJURY NOTES: Sophomore defenseman Mike Chiasson was injured during the third period and limped off the ice into the locker room. Berenson did not have an update on Chiasson’s status after the game.
If serious, Chiasson’s potential absence will be a massive blow to a defensive corps that has been unable to escape injuries this season. Juniors Mac Bennett and Kevin Clare, and sophomore Brennan Serville were all scratched this weekend due to injuries. To compensate, senior forward Jeff Rohrkemper filled in on the blue line.