Michigan”s 3-1 loss to Alaska-Fairbanks two Saturday”s ago appeared to be a wake-up call.
The team had tossed the Nanooks around like a rag doll the night before, beating them 7-0, only to be frustrated the very next night. The game was supposed to serve as an alarm to a team that had just gotten all of its roster back and was starting to get healthy.
Instead, it appears that the Wolverines merely rolled over and hit the snooze button. But unlike other students, they cannot afford to sleep through class and simply get the notes for the exam.
Michigan would not have to wait long for the alarm to sound again.
Friday night, Michigan appeared lethargic and unfocused against 11th-place Bowling Green a slower, weaker and less-skilled opponent. Having surrendered numerous odd-man rushes and even a shot that hit the inside post, the Wolverines were lucky to head into the lockerroom down 1-0 after the first period.
“The first period was probably one of the worst periods we played all year. We had our chances and our moments, but overall we just got outworked and outplayed,” defenseman Andy Burnes said. “As a team we weren”t ready to play and it showed right from the start.”
Michigan would not wake up after the intermission, continuing its lackluster play as it gave up a goal less than two minutes into the second period.
The Falcons were a team that the Wolverines expected to beat which may be the problem. Despite all the talk of parity, the 1-1 tie against Michigan State gave Michigan a false sense of security. This bravado led to Michigan”s uninspired play at a time when it had an abundance of inspiration.
Underestimating the ability of opponents is nothing new to the Wolverines. Three times last year, Michigan failed to win the second game of a weekend series after winning the first by three goals or more.
Every player knew the importance of the upcoming four-game stretch. The players also had an abundance of motivation having tied Michigan State without Mike Cammalleri last weekend.
But when the Wolverines stepped onto the ice Friday night, they had forgotten all about the shock they had received from Alaska-Fairbanks.
“Two weeks ago against Alaska-Fairbanks that was a huge wakeup call,” freshman Milan Gajic said. “Last night was even bigger. (We had the) 11th place team coming in, we thought we were going to have a big game but we didn”t.”
If Alaska-Fairbanks was a wakeup call as Gajic claimed, the Wolverines shouldn”t have needed shock therapy against Bowling Green. But perhaps an embarrassment is what the Wolverines needed.
The first time Michigan was embarrassed at home this season it was swept by Northern Michigan in their first weekend series of the year, 1-0 and 5-3.
Michigan answered the call from its leaders and coaches that weekend and went 8-1-2 during the next nine games.
The young Wolverines seemed to have learned that they could not underestimate any opponent and that anyone could beat them if they did.
Michigan had been humbled by Northern Michigan and became a blue-collar team, combining the hard-nosed style of its captain Jed Ortmeyer, with the playmaking ability of Cammalleri. The Wolverines started to grind along the boards, fight for loose pucks and became more physical leading to points on the scoreboard and in the standings.
The team proved it was capable of answering wakeup calls and demonstrated what it could do when playing with a purpose. Friday night, they received another wakeup call, but hit the snooze button as they came out flat on Saturday night, despite winning the game 3-2.
If the Wolverines have any desire to make the NCAA Tournament, they are going to have to answer the alarm and prove they can play the physical style of hockey that made them look like one of the top teams in the nation.