The No. 7 Michigan hockey hopes a pair of recent trends come to a halt this weekend.
The Wolverines host No. 20 Nebraska-Omaha this weekend in a battle between two teams heading in opposite directions. The Wolverines (5-3-1 CCHA, 9-5-1 overall) come into tonight’s game having lost four straight, while the Mavericks (5-5-0, 9-6-0) swept Ferris State last weekend to extend their winning steak to a season-high four games.
“Omaha is one of the hot teams in our league,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They’ve won four straight, and their top line is the top-scoring line in the country.”
Nebraska-Omaha is second in the nation in scoring, averaging just under four goals per game. Its first unit features the deadly duo of Scott Parse and Bill Thomas. Parse, who had tallied nine goals and 18 assists this season, has at least one point in every game. Thomas leads the team with 12 goals and currently holds a 10-game point streak. He earned CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring four goals and adding two assists last weekend.
“They are going to get their chances,” Berenson said. “Thomas led the league in scoring last year, and he is on his way to doing it again.”
Michigan should get its fair share of chances to score as well. Nebraska-Omaha is 10th in the CCHA in defense, and the Wolverines still own the nation’s top power play. Michigan enters tonight’s game with a 15-game power play goal streak.
The focus might be on scoring tonight, but Berenson would like to see his team make a conscious effort to play tough defense.
“We have to play well defensively,” Berenson said. “Part of that is an attitude. It’s not a skill.”
The pressure doesn’t lie solely on the defensemen to stop the Mavericks’ attack. Michigan will be looking for a complete team effort in trying to slow one of the nation’s most potent offenses.
“Whether it’s forechecking or getting (the puck) out of our own zone, a lot of it is little things then end up being big,” Berenson said. “If we do that, then you’ll say Michigan played well, and we will end up taking away from their team, their line and their strengths.”
Along with putting an emphasis on defense, a return to the basics could help Michigan end its losing streak.
“I think we are doing way too much with the puck and without,” sophomore forward Chad Kolarik said. “We just (have to) get (the puck) deep, play north-south hockey and stop trying to make one-on-one moves.”
This weekend will be important for reasons other than just trying to end Michigan’s longest losing strerak since 1988. After being swept at Miami (Ohio) last weekend, the Wolverines now sit 10 points back of the RedHawks in the CCHA standings. Despite having played three fewer CCHA games, Michigan’s chances to repeat as conference champions will all but disappear if it gives up any more ground. Also, the weekend series against Nebraska-Omaha presents the final two games it will face until the end of the month when they face No. 5 Colorado College at the Great Lakes Invitational. It will be very difficult for the Wolverines to head into the GLI with any sort of confidence if they have to sit on a six-game losing streak for three weeks.
“We’ve got two games before Christmas, and we really need them to get back on the right track,” alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki said. “That’s the most important thing. Obviously, we need to win these two just to get the points for the CCHA. We have to make sure we are still on track for that.”