OXFORD — Two weeks ago, the Michigan defense in front of senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick had a goal-prevention program so advanced it could have been called Defense 2.0.
Miami (Ohio) made it 0-2.
After playing Alaska in mid-January, Michigan coach Red Berenson said the defense would “have to play better.” After falling to Michigan State it was a “work in progress,” while the Wolverines were still leading the conference in team defense, allowing just 1.90 goals per game against CCHA opponents.
But against the vaunted RedHawk offense, Michigan was no match.
And after falling on consecutive nights to Miami, 4-2 and 3-0, Berenson had no answers to remedy the ailing defense. This time the woes were more noticeable. The series was a giant leap backward defensively — a show with little discipline and less patience.
The Wolverines (14-7-1-0 CCHA, 17-9-4 overall) were trampled over for seven goals on the weekend — the most allowed by Michigan in a conference series in nearly a year, dating back to a Feb. 19-20 pairing against Northern Michigan last year.
As if Michigan’s defensive woes weren’t pronounced enough already, the RedHawks, who field a 24-man roster, hardly needed help from anyone not named Andy Miele. The senior forward and Hobey-Baker frontrunner torched the Wolverines for a goal and five assists, padding his nation-leading points total.
For senior forward Carl Hagelin, the success of a single player made the weekend all the more miserable.
“I think that Miele guy, he’s the only guy who can really do things himself,” Hagelin said on Saturday. “Other than that, they’re really not a great offensive team.”
Michigan’s biggest affliction was its inability to string together consecutive periods of solid team defense. Miami (13-7-4-2, 16-9-5) was held to just six and seven shots in the first periods on Friday and Saturday, respectively. But the Wolverines had lapses on defense, leaving holes for players like Miele or senior Carter Camper to expose.
Friday’s loss was due to a three-goal third period comeback by the RedHawks — Michigan had previously been undefeated, 15-0-3, when carrying a lead into the final frame.
“We just have to play a full 60 minutes and we can’t give their players time,” sophomore forward A.J. Treais said after Friday’s game. “They have two or three of the best players in the country and you can’t give that guy time and space or they’re going to make plays, and that’s what they did.”
The late-game defensive mishaps were captured perfectly in the RedHawks’ game-winning goal on Friday.
With just over four minutes left in regulation, Miami’s Pat Connone entered the Michigan zone, and right when junior defenseman Greg Pateryn approached him with a challenge, Cononne pulled the puck back and darted around him with a flourish. With Pateryn beat, Cannone fed the puck across on a dime to Matt Tomassoni, who shoveled it into the net for the game winner.
“If you’re a forward, you say that’s a good move — if you’re a defenseman, you say that’s a terrible move,” Berenson said of Cononne’s deke. “(Pateryn) missed him completely, you can’t do that. You can’t do that. You can’t get beat. That goal really turned the tide.”
Though Michigan was outscored 7-2 on the weekend, the deficit could have been much worse if not for stiff goaltending by Hunwick, who kept the Wolverines within fighting distance during what Berenson described as a “shooting gallery” late in his 28-save performance on Friday.
With the CCHA lead hanging in the balance, Michigan will not only need good goaltending, but it will also need to cut down on the number of shooting galleries down the stretch.
“Defense first … just make sure that all the small things and all the details, play simple hockey,” Hagelin said. “That’s what we do when we play our best — everyone’s got to chip in.”