Michigan coach Red Berenson sat down in his office with a coffee mug after a rough weekend during which the Michigan hockey team was swept by Alaska for the first time in program history.
Inscribed on his mug filled with coffee —black as always, no cream or sugar — were the words “Start every day with a smile.”
Ironically, though, the Wolverines never received the message on Monday. From the nearly quiet practice on the ice to the demeanor off of it, Michigan looked sullen, frustrated and tired of losing. You can’t blame them for a lineup constantly in flux, unable to end up with a win.
It’s clear the Wolverines have struggled to take advantage of extra opportunities, and now both coaches and players are searching for a catalyst to jumpstart the program for a late-season run.
During last weekend’s series against the Nanooks, Michigan made a handful of changes with the hope of sparking the offense.
Before Friday’s game, missing a pair of defensemen to injuries — junior Mac Bennett and sophomore Brennan Serville — Berenson moved senior forward Jeff Rohrkemper back to defense for the third time during the season, paired with sophomore Mike Szuma. Berenson also started freshman goaltender Steve Racine in goal after junior goaltender Adam Janecyk allowed four goals on Tuesday against Bowling Green.
For Berenson’s final maneuver, freshman forward Andrew Copp was inserted onto the first line for the first time in his career. Copp, raised in Ann Arbor and originally not offered a scholarship, has emerged as one of the hardest workers from a team that has disappointed all season.
The results were mixed, though. Copp managed to tally two points — scoring a goal and recording an assist — but Racine allowed four goals in two periods behind a defense that struggled to bail him out.
“It’s a special feeling,” Copp said of the chance to start. “Obviously, being from Ann Arbor, it’s pretty cool to be in the starting lineup where you’re growing up from, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you start putting wins together.”
Feeling desperate the next night, Berenson chose to insert Janecyk into the starting lineup while moving sophomore forward Zach Hyman ahead of senior forward Kevin Lynch.
The changes were less effective than previous nights, leaving the Wolverines with scowls and a bitter taste in their mouths.
“There’s a depressing feeling around the room right now,” said sophomore forward Alex Guptill. “It’s hard when you’re not winning games. The older guys need to step up — the guys that have been there before.”
Added Copp: “We need to bear down on chances. We need to keep working in practice and not take anything for granted. Some games we have it (effort) and some games we don’t. We just need to find that consistency.”
Look for Berenson to make more changes to the lines in his attempt to find chemistry between his young athletes. Though not quantifiable, the 29-year veteran coach is aware of the ability of players to function at a better rate together instead of alone.
“We’ve got the same cast of characters really, but we’re trying to put players with players on the lines that need whatever they bring to the table,” Berenson said. “It might be a player going on the line that you’re not worried about the line scoring more, you’re worried about them being scored on, or you’re worried about them being out-worked.”
It’s worth noting that even with the changes, the top line of Copp, Hyman and senior forward A.J. Treais finished with a minus-one rating on Saturday night. The lineup, however, has spent limited time together, most of it coming on the power play that struggled mightily over the weekend.
“I wouldn’t say we have a first line or a second line,” Berenson said. “Our lines are fairly well balanced. You look in terms of experience, in terms of work ethic, in terms of physicality, in terms of offensive skill, I’m looking at all those things. But I’m also looking at two guys that can carry a line and compliment a third player.”
The goaltending core is also failing to produce consistently, as no candidate has managed to solidify the position. Keep an eye out in the upcoming weeks for the head coach to keep giving Janecyk and Racine chances, waiting for one to gain the hot hand. Berenson could also be prompted to insert freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge into the starting sport in the hope that a fresh face may be all that’s needed.
“We’re not giving up on anyone,” Berenson said. “We’re looking for life from our goalies.”
Most of all, look at the faces of each athlete, as they surely won’t have a smile until they put together a winning streak. For now, they won’t be starting their days with the sunny outlook Berenson’s mug encourages.