As they watched former Bowling Green forward Rich Meloche climb the glass in celebration of his team’s 5-3 home win, the 2005-06 Wolverine squad probably thought they were just witnessing a one-time fluke against a bad team. But last year, it happened again – the then-6-23-1 Falcons upset Michigan, 3-2, on Bowling Green’s home ice.
Bowling Green is no longer a bottom-feeder this season. And now, the Wolverines say they’re ready.
“We’ll have more respect for them,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “That’s always a tough challenge for the coaches. How do you respect the last-place team? How do you be really focused to play your hardest and your best when you don’t think the opponent is any good?
“That’s kind of what I think may have happened in the last few years. Maybe some of our players thought they were a lot better than Bowling Green. . I don’t think we’ll have this problem this year.”
No. 3 Michigan (9-1 CCHA, 14-2 overall) will play the 18th-ranked Falcons (5-3, 8-4) at Bowling Green Friday before returning to Yost to close the series Saturday.
To come away with a series win, Michigan’s penalty-killing unit will need to shut down the Falcons’ potent power play. Bowling Green has scored an impressive 20 of its 40 goals this season with the man advantage. Last weekend, the Falcons converted 50 percent of their power-play chances against Wayne State.
Since the Wolverines conceded five power-play goals to North Dakota in their season-ending 8-5 NCAA loss last season – a penalty-killing showing Berenson called an “embarrassment” – Michigan has put a greater emphasis on assembling this season’s penalty-killing unit.
Berenson said he looks for players with sharp defensive responsibility, awareness and anticipation.
“(Freshman Matt) Rust knows where the puck’s going, and you’ll see him anticipate where the puck’s going, so he has good defensive anticipation, whereas other players are more herky-jerky,” Berenson said. “(Senior Chad) Kolarik is smart. He’s in position, he’s got a smart stick, he knows where the play’s going, so he gets by on his smarts.”
The unit has allowed 10 goals in 88 power plays, but it has let in just two goals in the past four games. Though the penalty-killing unit has evolved, its performance this weekend will indicate how much Michigan has actually improved since last year.
“We really haven’t changed (the penalty-killing unit) that much (since last weekend),” Rust said. “Coach just emphasizes that they scored half their goals on the power play, and they have a better power-play percentage than we do. It’s going to be a deciding factor, especially in this weekend’s games.”
Michigan also hopes to boost its offensive production this weekend by moving defenseman Chris Summers to forward. Scoring hasn’t usually been a problem for the Wolverines, but they couldn’t score until late in last Friday’s 3-2 loss to Ohio State.
“I think we’ll just have to stick to our game plan,” junior Tim Miller said. “Last Friday, we came out strong, but we didn’t get our bounces, we hit a bunch of goal posts, so we got a little frustrated.”
Frustration seems to be the theme of the Wolverines’ last few games on Bowling Green’s home ice. In last year’s 3-2 loss, Michigan gave up the game-winning goal with 35 seconds left in regulation.
“It’s amazing how that rink seems to bring out the best and worst in our team,” Berenson said. “The last two years, we haven’t done as well in there as we should have and we need to correct that. But this is a new team, and they’re a new team. I don’t think history has any bearing on what’s going to happen this weekend.”