Go to any Michigan hockey game and you’ll see the Children of Yost get restless for the faceoff.
“Drop the puck!” they scream at the referee, who dangles it in front of the centers for what feels like eternity to fans who just want the game to resume play.
For most fans, the faceoff is a blip in the game that doesn’t last more than a couple of seconds. They’re not too interested in it. There are more exciting things to focus on, like who scores or who slams who into the boards.
For most hockey players, it’s just a routine part of the game. They win some, they lose some, but it shouldn’t be anything to lose sleep over.
But for eighth-ranked Wolverines, faceoffs are becoming a troubling issue, and they’re getting more anxious for them than they should be.
Michigan (1-1 CCHA, 3-2 overall) has been plagued with a slew of bad faceoffs lately, the most recent of which resulted a crucial third-period goal for Miami (Ohio) in the Wolverines’ 4-3 loss on Saturday night.
“I can’t tell you (faceoffs) are (always) a concern as they’ve jumped up and bitten us already,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We give up … a handful of goals (that) have been on faceoffs. That shouldn’t be.”
In Saturday’s miscue, Curtis McKenzie scored Miami’s game-winning goal just moments after a quick breakaway from the circle in Michigan’s zone. With the whole play happening in just seconds, the Wolverine defense barely had time to react to losing the draw before their goaltender had been beat.
“I think (the goal) was just a communication error,” said sophomore forward Travis Lynch. “I know the defensemen didn’t talk to the forwards on that one, so that’s why there’s some confusion on that. It cost us for sure.”
That goal reflected the worst of the faceoffs in the Miami series, in which Michigan won less than half of the draws. But it’s still a major concern, especially when the Wolverines consider that they’re losing most of the draws in the most dangerous part of the rink: their own defensive zone.
On Friday, for example, Michigan went 1-for-12 in faceoffs in its own zone. As Berenson points out, he can’t expect the players to win draws in their opponents’ end if they can’t even win enough to protect their own goal.
Senior forward A.J Treais is arguably the Wolverines’ strongest center, and Berenson usually trusts the captain enough to pit him against the opponent’s best center on the draws.
But against the RedHawks, Treais’ position at the point on the power play meant that faceoff responsibilities fell to someone else. It shouldn’t have been a problem — according to Lynch, the team prides itself on the draws — but something about the system got lost in translation last weekend.
“(We) have to take each draw, make it more important and really focus on winning those,” Lynch said. “If we lose a draw, then we have to get in shooting lanes (and) make sure no one gets out of place and is not open.”
Berenson didn’t even try to hide his frustration about the faceoffs after the series. Though he plans to put more emphasis on draws in practice this week, there’s still no guarantee of any improvement during games.
“Part of it is mental and the other part of it is actually technique and working on it,” Berenson said. “We will definitely be working on faceoffs. And we have been (working at it) enough to be better at it than we are.”