The Michigan hockey team can hardly be described as subpar, but this season, it has often found itself on the wrong side of the draw.
During last weekend’s 10-1 and 2-1 wins against Nebraska-Omaha, the Wolverines dominated in nearly every statistical category except faceoffs. Michigan won just 37 percent of its draws in Saturday’s win and 46 percent for the weekend.
The Wolverines’ performance against the Mavericks was consistent with their .477 season percentage. But even though Michigan has made faceoffs a priority in practice, its opponents still consistently win more.
“We’ve been doing everything from looking at tapes, to practicing after practice, to even threatening the team that we’re going to bring Steve Yzerman down and work with our players to show them how to take faceoffs,” associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “I can’t tell you why we haven’t gotten better.”
Pearson named mental toughness and tenacity as two key traits needed to be strong on the draw, while Michigan coach Red Berenson said confidence and quick hand-eye coordination are most important.
Freshman Louie Caporusso, one of the team’s best in the faceoff circle, said Michigan also tried to be a little innovative this weekend.
On Friday, his line tried different strategies like switching defensemen with forwards to get better scoring opportunities right off the draw.
“After we went up by a big lead, our faceoffs started to get a little creative,” Caporusso said. “The ones that were lost, I can’t really say you should take those into consideration because we were trying to practice different things, that’s for sure.”
After this weekend, freshman Carl Hagelin boasted a team-high .543 faceoff percentage. He won 15 draws and lost 14 against the Mavericks in his first appearance at center since Nov. 30 against Ohio State.
“There’s nobody in hockey with a 70-percent faceoff (percentage) – it doesn’t work that way,” Berenson said. “There’s nobody in the NHL. I think (Detroit Red Wing Kris) Draper is the highest with 59 percent or 60 percent. That’s as high as it gets. So if you’re at 54 percent, that’s not bad.”
Caporusso (52 percent) and freshman Matt Rust (51 percent), along with senior Kevin Porter, take the most faceoffs for Michigan. Berenson said he felt the freshmen were doing “as good or better” than the upperclassmen taking faceoffs. Porter, who switched to center at the beginning of the year, has won just 42 percent of his draws.
Pearson said difficulty with draws was an expected part of the learning curve during Porter’s transition to center this season, and Berenson said Porter’s struggles may lie in making faceoffs an integral part of his game.
“When I was a player, one of the things I knew was that if I was going to have a good game, it was going to start with faceoffs – so I was pretty good at faceoffs,” Berenson said. “Players that have never done that, that’s the last thing on their mind when they walk in the building, so we’re trying to reeducate some older players like (junior forward Tim) Miller and Porter.”
Though the Wolverines have hovered below .500 for much of the season, faceoff statistics can sometimes misrepresent the team’s focus.
“Even if we don’t get a lot better, if we can survive by winning important faceoffs,” Berenson said. “For me, I’d rather win all my faceoffs in my zone and then maybe take it with a grain of salt in the offensive zone.”