Michigan”s Eric Nystrom skipped practice on Tuesday in order to nurse an ankle injury he suffered against Alaska-Fairbanks on Jan. 11. Nystrom, who played hurt against Michigan State last weekend, is not yet 100 percent recovered. So why is the freshman winger suiting up for this weekend”s series against Bowling Green one of the weaker teams in the CCHA this season when he could be treating his injury? It”s simple.

“We can”t afford to lose any more games,” Nystrom said.

After dueling to a 1-1 tie last weekend in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines and Spartans each have 10 CCHA games left to play, with Michigan State holding a two-point edge in the standings. If Michigan wants to be conference champions, a loss or a tie at this point would be very costly. Each game is of equal importance right now.

“We know how tough it is night after night no matter who you are playing,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I keep saying that we can”t lose a point, but what I”m really saying is that we have to play to win every game. We have to put the pressure on ourselves to play our best hockey.”

On the other side of the rink, Bowling Green is currently sitting in 11th place in the CCHA, just one point ahead of last-place Lake Superior. Scoring has been the biggest issue for the Falcons, as their 2.5 goals-per-game average is far too low to contend with any of their conference opponents.

Picked to finish eighth in the CCHA by the media, coach Buddy Powers” Falcons were expecting to turn some heads this season after a strong showing in last year”s CCHA Tournament. In the first round, the No. 9 seed Bowling Green upset No. 2 seed Miami. The Falcons went on to defeat Northern Michigan in the play-in game, but lost a tough 2-1 game to Michigan State in the semifinals.

“I don”t think there is any correlation between last season and this one,” Powers said. “We have a lot of different players, but we”ve lost because we didn”t score.”

For a team looking to make a major move in the standings, Yost Ice Arena is not the easiest place to get started. Although Michigan has had difficulty sweeping two-game series at home, the Falcons have dropped nine of their last 10 in Ann Arbor.

“We have to play the best game we can play, and we have to find a way to get a puck past (Michigan goalie Josh) Blackburn,” Powers said. “When their fans get fired up, it”s like Michigan has an extra guy out on the ice.”

Given Bowling Green”s position in the standings, it would seem likely that the team has begun to look toward next season. But the new format of the CCHA Tournament, in which every team in the CCHA gets invited, is keeping Powers focused on the present.

“We”re starting to look at (the future) a little bit, but I think we still have an opportunity to make a move in the standings before the playoffs,” Powers said. “We”re focused right now on moving up the ladder.”

Meanwhile, keeping pace with the Spartans is the main thing on the Wolverines” mind. But they will also be concerned with developing some crucial home-ice confidence While Michigan has performed well above its expectations on the road (7-1-3 overall), it has lacked consistency at Yost (4-4-2). With the NCAA West Regional being played in Ann Arbor this year, Michigan will have a substantial advantage if it is able to find a rhythm at home.

“One of our goals in the lockerroom is to perform better at home,” Berenson said. “In terms of wins and losses, we are not there yet.”

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