DETROIT The Michigan hockey team won”t admit it, but it seems more at home on the road than it does at Yost Ice Arena. When the Wolverines get into the bus to travel to an opposing arena, they seem to bring their “A” game.
Michigan has a pristine record when playing on the road (9-1-3), with its one blemish coming against Western Michigan in its fifth game of the season. Add a 2-2-0 record at neutral sites, and the Wolverines are 11-3-3 away from Yost. The Wolverines are currently on a 11-game road-CCHA unbeaten streak (9-0-2) with just one conference road game remaining.
Michigan even picked up a 5-0 road victory, Thursday night, in Taffy Abel Arena (Lake Superior”s home ice), an arena in which Michigan has not won since 1997.
“This is a big victory for us to come up here,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after Thursday”s shutout. “It”s important to play well on the road and renew that feeling again that we”re a good team defensively. The thing I like most about the victory is that we didn”t give up any goals.”
Perhaps the stellar road record can be attributed to an increased emphasis on defense. The Wolverines have a 2.59 goals against average at Yost while giving up 2.29 goals per game.
“I don”t know what is with our team, but we have this mindset on the road that we like,” said freshman Milan Gajic, who scored a powerplay goal in Thursday night”s game. “(Our road mentality is) that we have to work hard and not put on a show for anybody. It is all about hard work and it works.”
That hard work has paid off for the Wolverines, as they have picked up nine more points on the road than they have at home.
Michigan is currently 5-5-2 at home with five of its remaining seven games to be played at Yost, not including a possible first round CCHA Tournament series at home in the middle of March.
“I think we kind of solved (our problems at home),” Gajic said, referring to Michigan”s back-to-back losses against Alaska-Fairbanks and 11th place Bowling Green. “We had the loss to Alaska and we had the loss to Bowling Green, and those games we just didn”t come out ready. I think if we come out ready (we can win). What we need to do is come out ready at home the same way we do on the road.”
Big man on campus: One of the biggest surprises from Michigan”s freshman class has come in the form of one of the smallest players on the team. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, Eric Werner plays like a spark plug and has provided much-needed offense for Michigan over the past few weekends.
The freshman has tallied a point in four of the last five games with two goals and four assists in that time period. This offensive surge has catapulted him to fifth place on the team in points with 17. Of those 17 points, 14 have been assists.
“On the powerplay, he can be looking one way and thread the needle the other way,” fellow freshman Michael Woodford said. “Teams will underestimate him as a freshman running the powerplay from the point, but he can really hurt them.”
Werner provided Michigan”s only goal on Saturday, when he pinched in and picked up the rebound off Craig Murray”s shot from the point on Michigan”s first powerplay of the game.
“I was trying to put it on net. It was a good shot by Murray, and I was lucky to get the rebound and put it back in,” Werner said.
Streaking: Michigan continued its strong performance on the penalty kill as it shut down all four of Lake Superior”s powerplays Saturday. The four kills ran Michigan”s penalty-kill streak to 46 while bringing its penalty-kill percentage down to 11 percent.
The last time the Wolverines allowed a powerplay goal was more than a month ago, against North Dakota in the Great Lakes Invitational.
“Our penalty killing has been really good of late,” Werner said. “We were taking a lot of penalties but our penalty killing is getting better and better. Right now we have (a lot of) confidence in that facet of our game.”