n late January of 1998, the eventual national champion Michigan hockey team headed to Oxford for a series against CCHA rival Miami.
The Wolverines were riding a five-game winning streak heading into the two-game weekend. But the RedHawks quickly slowed the Wolverines down, twice upsetting Michigan, 3-1 and 4-3.
Hopefully the RedHawks enjoyed that victory over Michigan, because there hasn”t been another one to celebrate since then. The Wolverines have dominated Miami lately, claiming wins in the last 10 contests between the two teams.
If Michigan can translate that sort of consistency over to its defensive play, then the streak could run to 12 this weekend.
The defensive effort has been a Jekyll and Hyde story for Michigan this season. Against Northern Michigan on Oct. 27, the Wolverines allowed three powerplay goals en route to a 5-3 loss, giving the Wildcats a sweep of the two-game series.
But the next weekend, Michigan responded by giving up just one goal over two games against Alaska-Fairbanks. The result was a two-game sweep for the Wolverines.
Then over Thanksgiving weekend, No. 1 Minnesota jumped on Michigan early and rolled to a 5-2 win. Contrarily last Saturday, the Wolverines stymied Ferris State and routed the Bulldogs, 6-1.
Establishing consistency on defense is one of the biggest factors Michigan will focus on against Miami.
“Anytime that we play good defense it”s going to start the offense,” defenseman Andy Burnes said. “We played good defense (Saturday night) against Ferris and consequently scored six goals. As far as these two games go, it”s important that we get two wins and establish ourselves in the CCHA as a team to beat.”
Allowing the Wolverines to take two wins is something that the RedHawks would like to avoid. Miami coach Enrico Blasi has never beaten Michigan, posting an 0-6 mark against them.
“We”re playing this a game at a time and we have to come to play 60 minutes,” Blasi said. “Michigan”s a very good team they”ve got a bunch of offensive weapons to deal with.
“We just have to stick to our game plan, play hard and see what happens.”
Blasi, though, has had the privilege of playing at Miami”s home rink Goggin Ice Arena just once since taking over the team in 1999. Overall, during Michigan”s 10-game domination of the RedHawks, only twice have the games been played at Goggin.
It is a difficult arena for visiting teams to play in, as evidenced by Michigan”s 2-3 record there in its last five games. But the setting is very similar to Ferris State”s Ewigleben Ice Arena, where the Wolverines pulled out a 5-4 win last Friday.
“I think it was really good for the team to play in a rink like that a small, compact rink,” junior John Shouneyia said. “Miami is a lot like that. Once they get going there, (the fans) get loud so we have to give them nothing and shut them up.”
In spite of the hostile environment, the Wolverines feel that the defensive-minded RedHawks will force Michigan to play its best defensive hockey.
“They”re a team that has been very good themselves home and away and they do it by not scoring a lot of goals,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We can”t afford to give up a lot of goals we have to play our best defensive hockey.”
Even with the defensive struggles, the Wolverines have been on a roll since the two-loss series to Northern Michigan. They have posted a 6-1-1 record overall since then including a mark of 5-0-1 in the CCHA.
That record is the best in the CCHA over that time period and the Wolverines are hopeful that they can keep making noise in the conference.
“We”re coming off two wins, so we”re concentrating on going in there ready to play hockey,” Burnes said. “We don”t want to go in too high or go in too low we”ve got to go in on an even keel where we”re ready for anything and ready to do whatever it takes to get four points on the road.”