Last season, the Michigan hockey team visited Northern Michigan for an early season series as it will this weekend. On that occasion, it seemed the teams gathered for a heavyweight fight, only to have a hockey game break out.
This time around, Michigan coach Red Berenson expects tempers more subdued compared to last year’s incident when then-starting goaltender Shawn Hunwick took a swing at a Northern Michigan forward and earned a game misconduct penalty. Michigan lost the first game, 5-3, and earned a shootout win in the finale.
“I don’t think we’ll have that issue,” Berenson said. “I think Hunwick might’ve been a bit of a target last year, and he made a mistake last year. We’ve got a new team, they’ve got a new team … we won’t have any of that.”
What the Wolverines will have on their hands, however, is a much-improved Wildcats squad that endured a painful sweep at the hands of No. 7 Notre Dame last weekend. In those games, No. 20 Northern Michigan fell 5-2 and 3-2.
“They’re a pretty good team,” Berenson said. “And they’ll be looking to play better than they played last weekend too, because they gave up a couple of bad goals against Notre Dame. It wasn’t that they got outplayed, they just got outscored.”
In addition to dealing with the new-look Wildcats (0-2 CCHA, 3-3-0 overall), led by coach Walt Kyle in his 11th season, No. 8 Michigan will encounter an Olympic-sized rink, bigger than the NCAA standard and the largest the Wolverines will see this season. Fifteen extra feet of ice await the Wolverines (1-1, 3-2-0) in Marquette, making neutral-zone communication especially important, as breakaways are even more dangerous.
“If you get on the wrong side of your man, it’s a long way back to the net,” Berenson said.
The larger ice will present a challenge for the two freshmen goaltenders, Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine, altering their anticipated angles. Berenson has yet to name a starter for the weekend — the duo each took one of the team’s games with Miami (Ohio) — but he did emphasize that the team’s Thursday night skate at the Berry Events Center should help minimize the adjustment for the netminders.
According to senior captain A.J. Treais, the adjustment should come naturally to Michigan.
“I think it works to our advantage,” Treais said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that can fly and a lot of guys that can drive wide so … I think we’ll be fine.”
This weekend marks the Wolverines’ first road test of the young season, and away games certainly troubled Michigan last year — it went 5-6-3 in true road contests. Berenson said the upperclassmen carry a lot of the burden of making sure “team talk” is focused, and younger players understand the difficulties of playing on the road.
“None of these games anymore are gimmies,” Treais said. “Especially with it being our first road test, it’ll be interesting to see how we respond there.”
Michigan will play without two of its defensemen, neither of whom will make the trip to Marquette. Junior Jon Merrill has been sidelined since he cracked a vertebrae in an Oct. 9 exhibition, and sophomore Brennan Serville is out with what Berenson is calling a “facial concussion.”
With only six defensemen available for the two games, the weekend will be a test of the defensive corps’ resilience and depth.