Fast-skating Dwight Helminen returned to the ice yesterday for the first time this week. And that may be just in time for the Wolverines.
A physical Lake Superior team arrives at Yost Ice Arena for a two-game series this weekend, and speed may be at a premium for Michigan. The Wolverines aren’t as big as the Lakers, and they may have to out-skate them to create scoring chances.
Lake Superior has five players that weigh 210 pounds or more, while Michigan has just one (Jason Ryznar) over 200. With Helminen back and healthy, Michigan is much more capable of evading some of the Lakers’ hits.
The sophomore center sat out the first two days of practice this week with a hyper-extended knee. He took a low hip-check Saturday night against Bowling Green and his knee swelled up after the game.
The check was just one example of the type of physical battle the two CCHA rivals played. But facing that style comes as no surprise to Michigan.
“Bowling Green has a small rink, and that’s what they try to do to any team that comes in there that has a lot of speed, is just get in front of guys and take the body on them,” Helminen said. “That’s pretty much what any team is going to do against us.”
The Falcons were also not the first team to play a rough game against the Wolverines.
“We’re a good team and a fast team and that’s the way people are going to have to play against us,” said forward Jeff Tambellini. “It’s something that goes on and you’ve got to just get used to it and play through it.”
In Michigan’s only loss of the season, a 5-4 overtime defeat at the hands of North Dakota on Oct. 12, the Fighting Sioux pounded away at the Wolverines late in the game.
“I think that’s the only way you can beat Michigan,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said of his team’s forceful approach to the game. “I don’t think you can try to go out and skate with them. You have to hit them and check them as well as they’re going to hit you.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson thinks that many of these teams don’t change their style just to play the Wolverines.
“That’s the way the league is and that’s the way these teams play,” Berenson said. “They play each other that way, it’s not just against us. We know that every week is going to be physical hockey.”
But Berenson knows that his speedy players, Helminen included, will be important in any game.
“If you have the speed, and you can get from point A to B a little quicker than someone, and you get position on them, then that’ll pay off,” Berenson said. “If you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how big or fast or small or slow you are, you’re not going to be able to get there and take that position. But in races for the puck, it’s always an advantage. Speed kills if you use it right.”
Looking back: Fans entering Yost for this weekend’s games will be greeted by a little history. The hockey program has covered the poles in the entryway with five-foot tall pictures of the great players from Michigan’s past.
“It’s something we talked about this fall and we finally got it done,” Berenson said. “I think that it’s really a nice addition. We wanted to have it before the season started but (now) we got it.”
Former Hobey Baker Award winner Brendan Morrison (Vancouver Canucks), and NHL goalies Steve Shields (Boston Bruins) and Marty Turco (Dallas Stars) are among those displayed.
“It was fun looking back and selecting players,” Berenson said. “And we could select more. I mean, we’ll do more. We don’t have immediate plans, but what we’ve got, we’re happy with.”