After the Michigan hockey team’s home-and-home series against Notre Dame this weekend, the Wolverines could find themselves in a number of CCHA first-round playoff matchups.
There’s one clear-cut certainty: if Michigan sweeps the Fighting Irish and Northern Michigan splits against visiting Lake Superior State, the Wolverines won’t have to play that first game at all.
But the what-if scenarios don’t have Michigan coach Red Berenson’s attention in the slightest bit.
“We are focused on our game,” Berenson said. “When the smoke clears, we’ll see where we are (in the standings). And it’ll be our doing one way or the other, whether we are moving up or moving down.”
Currently, the Wolverines (13-12-1-0 CCHA, 18-16-1 overall) sit in seventh place in the CCHA, and because the fourth-and fifth-place teams — Alaska and Nebraska-Omaha, respectively — finished their conference schedules last weekend, Michigan still controls its own destiny.
And it will start on the defensive side of the red line, according to Berenson. In last weekend’s series at Yost Ice Arena against Northern Michigan, the Wolverines surrendered the first goal early in each game. It’s something that’s been a trend throughout the season for Michigan: get down early, claw its way back into the contest, but fail to clinch a win.
“We have to play better defensively,” Berenson said. “One thing that happens when we give the other team two or three goals, the pressure to score — it’s harder to score. …You’re better off to be shutting the other team down, worrying about defense. And then you get your chances.”
Against Notre Dame in the teams’ home-and-home series in mid-December, the Wolverines scored first midway through the first period en route to their 4-1 win in Ann Arbor. Junior forward Louie Caporusso netted a goal and two assists, and it’s the Woodbridge, Ontario native’s play lately that has Michigan in a good position to have a successful weekend.
With the former Hobey Baker finalist boasting a line of 4-3-7 in his last five games, and Berenson’s encouragement to shoot more instead of trying to finagle his way past defenders, the Wolverines are feeling better about their chances.
But not only will they have to shut Notre Dame down (8-11-7-2, 12-14-8) defensively, they’ll have to improve on the power play as well. When Michigan played the Fighting Irish earlier, it converted only once on 10 power plays. Notre Dame plays an aggressive style of penalty kill, where it minimizes the oppositions’ space and time when it comes to making decisions in the offensive zone.
According to Berenson, the Wolverines will need to make quicker decisions with the puck as well as execute if they hope to bypass a first round CCHA matchup.
“Whether we get a bye or not, as long as we have a good weekend, we will have something to build on,” Berenson said. “I can’t say we have a lot to build on after last weekend, not enough. We need more than that to be ready for the playoffs.”