If it’s possible to have a fresh start in the middle of a six-month long, 39-game season, the Michigan hockey team is getting one right now.
When fans last left the slumping 13th-ranked Wolverines in December, the team had a long list of injuries, struggled against CCHA bottom-feeder Western Michigan and got swept by then-No. 4 Notre Dame – all en route to its 10th straight Great Lakes Invitational without a championship trophy.
But now at the regular season’s halfway mark, Michigan will attempt to build off a first half that had few highs and many lows.
“We had a meeting (Thursday), and we reviewed our last 10 games,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “No matter how you look at it – penalty kill, power play, even-strength goals for, even-strength goals against – it’s embarrassing. And we were 6-4 in those games.”
The Wolverines (8-5 CCHA, 13-8 overall) will hope to get an immediate remedy in the form of Andrew Cogliano and Jack Johnson. Over the holidays, the star sophomores played in the IIHF World Junior Championship in Sweden representing Canada and the United States, respectively.
The players compose two parts of Michigan’s top power-play unit, and in the GLI championship game against No. 10 Michigan State, the Wolverines clearly missed them. Michigan ached for some offense throughout the 4-1 loss.
Johnson and Cogliano returned to practice yesterday. Last year, both played in the World Juniors in Canada and flew back on a Friday to play in a Michigan game that night. That was just the beginning of a slump for Cogliano, who struggled to return to his usual form after the tournament.
But this year, with no games scheduled over the weekend, the two could fly back from Sweden on Saturday, relax and gear up for the rest of the season.
“I’m not that tired anymore,” said Cogliano, who scored a goal for tournament-champion Canada in the gold-medal game. “I slept really well the past few nights. . (This year) I think I just had time to wind down and kind of think about the next half of the season. We’re looking to have a much better half than we did.”
The forward had been on a hot-streak before he left the country, scoring six goals over a three-game span, including his first career hat trick.
In the games prior to World Juniors, Johnson didn’t suit up for Michigan because of a shoulder injury he suffered at Western Michigan at the beginning of December. His shoulder healed just as the team broke for the holidays and just as he headed to Sweden. In the tournament, the defenseman scored three goals in seven games to help secure a bronze medal for the United States.
Now he’s happy to be home to contribute in Ann Arbor.
“We got a good team; there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be one of the top teams in the league and do well in the NCAA Tournament,” Johnson said. “It’s not like there’s a real secret or anything to the second half of the season, we just have to keep playing hard.”
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they get to ease into this leg of the season with tonight’s matchup against Bowling Green. At the bottom of the CCHA, the Falcons (3-11, 5-16-1) shouldn’t pose too much of a threat.
Granted, Michigan will need more than a win against Bowling Green to climb out of fifth place in the CCHA, but it could be a start.
“That’s pretty much unacceptable,” Johnson said of his team’s standings in the conference. “Michigan’s expected to win the CCHA. These players expect to win it, as do I. We pretty much shouldn’t lose a game the rest of the year in the CCHA.”
Bowling Green at Michigan
Matchup: Michigan 13-8-0; Bowling Green 5-16-1
Where: Yost Ice Arena
TV/Radio: Comcast Local