For the first time since November of 1998, the Michigan hockey team has a week off. Because it is not playing, NCAA regulations forbid Michigan”s coaches from even holding official practices this week.

Paul Wong
Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn had one of the best weekends of his career, stopping 62 of 63 shots against Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend.<br><br>BRENDAN O”DONNELL/Daily

Consequently, the Wolverines are practicing this week without their coaches present. They will also use the week to relax and catch up on schoolwork.

“This is an open week for them,” assistant coach Mel Pearson said. “We might have some individual meetings with some of the players if they want to come in and talk to us about school or hockey, but they”re pretty much on their own.”

Since it was sandwiched in-between two difficult away series, this week initially seemed like the perfect time for an off-week. But instead, after playing their best weekend of the season by sweeping Alaska-Fairbanks 2-1 and 4-0, the Wolverines now need to find a way to keep their new-found momentum going through the time off.

Several things went right for Michigan this weekend. Goalie Josh Blackburn turned in his strongest weekend of the season, earning his 10th career shutout Saturday night and stopping 62 of 63 shots on the whole. For his efforts, U.S. College Hockey Online named Blackburn one of its Players of the Week.

“Blackburn made some huge saves out there and really had a strong weekend,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

Another positive sign for the Wolverines was their penalty killing. Michigan killed off all 12 of the Nanooks” powerplays, while scoring a shorthanded goal and a powerplay goal of its own.

“Special teams play made a huge difference,” Berenson said. “The penalty killing was much better than what it had been. The team did a better job of controlling the puck and clearing it when they got a chance.

“We ended up being plus-two in special teams on the weekend, which made a huge difference.”

Both coaches felt that the most important thing from this weekend”s sweep was the mental boost it gave the players.

“So much is expected out of this program to do well,” Pearson said. “The players knew all along that we were good, but sometimes doubt can creep in. Red did a great job of letting them know that we do have a good team here.”

“This weekend reassured some of our young players that we have a strong team, but the players are also honest,” Berenson said. “They know that it is early in the season and that we have a long way to go. The wins brought us back to .500, but the team still has to play better.”

Michigan was originally scheduled to host Merrimack College this weekend, but their games were taken away as a penalty when the NCAA ruled that the Wolverines played one too many games last season.

With the time off, the coaches will turn their attention towards other matters for the time being.

The most pressing concern at the time is recruiting. With the official signing date just around the corner, the Wolverines have four spots to fill for the upcoming season.

“This week we are really going to try and get our recruiting in order,” Pearson said. “The signing date is just a week from this Wednesday.”

The Wolverines will resume official practices next Monday, and then will once again hit the road for a series against Nebraska-Omaha Nov. 16th and 17th.

“Winning definitely solves a lot of problems,” Pearson said. “We are really looking forward to going out there and competing.”

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