Few squads have a home-ice advantage like the Michigan hockey team.
Yost Ice Arena has traditionally been one of the most intimidating venues for visiting teams.
Despite this edge, the Wolverines have struggled to sweep home series, especially after dominating the weekend’s first game – which is exactly what happened against Northern Michigan this weekend.
“We have been playing together for four months now, and we know what to expect,” senior captain Matt Hunwick said. “We’ve had some letdowns, at home especially, against teams we should beat. Tonight was no different . there is a seriousness that we need when we get out on the ice, and I think we lacked that.”
The Wolverines haven’t lost on the opening night of weekend home series but are just 1-3 in the final game this season.
“It’s pretty unacceptable and disappointing,” senior Kevin Porter said. “This used to be the toughest place to play, but this year, there have been numerous teams that come in here and beat us in our own rink.”
Michigan has already lost five home games – the most at this point of the season since 1988.
From listening to postgame comments, it sounds as if the games are over before the puck drops. The Wolverines have pointed to not being mentally ready to win and failing to match the visiting team’s desperation.
“We weren’t playing with enough desperation,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said following Saturday’s loss. “We weren’t playing with a sense of urgency. Then, when you start doing that, you start trying to do too much yourself, so you’re not playing together.”
Against Northern Michigan on Saturday, the Wolverines were frequently called offsides, infractions that signal a team is not in sync. Those violations killed offensive chances before they could start – critical mistakes for a team that didn’t score until the game’s waning seconds against the 10th-placed Wildcats.
Berenson called Friday’s 5-2 win over the same Wildcats a team effort because of how well the Wolverines played together. He used the same terminology to explain the team’s failure to complete the home sweep.
“We’ve all got to get on the same track and stay there,” Berenson said. “We can’t get on there once in a while, and then when the train gets moving, we all decide we’re going to go different directions. . That’s a breakdown all through the game.”
But Berenson has conveyed these messages frequently this season.
After an early season 6-3 loss to Miami in the final game of a home series, he said his team “was not going to beat anybody with that effort.” The RedHawks’ penalty kill outscored the Michigan power play 2-1 in that game and controlled the pace of play, even when Michigan had the man advantage.
In a weekend-ending loss to Northeastern, Berenson pointed to some mental “lapses” that put his team in trouble. Trailing by one in the final minutes, Michigan tried to bring goalie Billy Sauer out of the net to have an extra attacker on the ice, but sophomore Travis Turnbull was called for a hooking penalty.
Following each loss, the Wolverines state their resolve to make the necessary adjustments for the next week, but those adjustments have translated to just one home weekend sweep.
Porter continued Saturday night to harp on the need to get the problem fixed.
With just one home series remaining this regular season before a possible home series in the CCHA playoffs, Michigan fans will hope that the team learns how to make that change soon.
But the team might have to turn this around to finish in the league’s top four to earn a first-round bye. Right now, the Wolverines sit in fourth place, just four points ahead of fifth placed Lake Superior State.