SOUTH BEND — Sometimes it’s the simple things that are the most difficult to do.

When the Michigan hockey team was swept this past weekend by CCHA rival Notre Dame, its inability to do the simple things played a factor in the abysmal losses.

Michigan’s offense typically finds success in controlling the puck and cycling through the offensive rotation from the defensemen at the blue line to the forwards behind and in front of the net. This weekend, the Fighting Irish used a stingy defensive effort to thwart any such offensive fluidity.

“I guess we were being a little bit sloppy, making too cute of plays,” said senior forward Kevin Lynch after Saturday’s 6-4 loss. “(We weren’t) getting pucks to the corner and cycling in, getting our bodies over pucks and getting shots on net.

“I think we were trying to be too cute out there and we were sloppy in the neutral zone. We were just trying to make the extra move at the blue line instead of getting pucks deep.”

During Saturday night’s first period, Michigan rarely controlled the puck deep in the Notre Dame offensive zone. The times that the puck was cleared, the Wolverines failed to maintain possession and set up the offense. Like Lynch said, this started in the neutral zone. Whether it was a misplayed puck or a poorly placed pass, the rhythm just wasn’t there.

During the power play that resulted in a Michigan goal in the second period, it rarely let the puck out of the Notre Dame zone for the entirety of the two minutes. This allowed them to pepper Fighting Irish goalie Steven Summerhays with shots. Though they might not have been the best looks, getting pucks to the net and controlling the rebounds will usually result in an increase of legitimate scoring chances.

“We had a lot of shots blocked again tonight,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They did a good job of blocking shots from our defensemen.”

Michigan’s inability to get pucks on the net ultimately led to the lack of the gritty goals that teams score in front of the net. The few times a scrum did erupt in front of the Notre Dame net, the puck was easily cleared away. Despite the Wolverines finishing the weekend with eight goals, the majority of these came from outside of the slot, with the man advantage or on a fast break.

Berenson has said that for Michigan to improve, it needs to not only be better with the puck, but also without the puck. This means players anticipating where and when a pass will be or putting in that extra effort to keep a puck inside the blue line. Berenson referenced the parody in faceoff statistics between the two teams as a factor in the Wolverines’ inability to control the puck deep in Notre Dame’s zone.

“We actually out-chanced them in the first period, but they had more of the play,” he said. “We must have had a dozen faceoffs in our zone and maybe only three or four in their zone.”

Though hockey does not keep a statistic for time of possession, if there was one for this weekend’s series, Notre Dame dominated it. The Fighting Irish would keep the puck in Michigan’s zone for extended periods of time, and when the puck was cleared, it would be in the midst of a line change.

One of the most evident differences between the two teams’ ability to control possession came when there were loose pucks. Lynch called it “will,” and Notre Dame was out-willing Michigan for the majority of the series. Good stick handling and making crisp passes goes a long way, but without that extra pep in its step, Michigan failed to retain possession of the loose pucks.

“It’s just hustle,” Lynch said. “We need to get that first guy on pucks.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.