In “A Tale of Two Cities,” Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It could also describe this season for the Michigan men’s hockey team.
This weekend, the Wolverines have a chance to rewrite their season when they play Bowling Green in a home-and-home series – tonight’s game in Ann Arbor and tomorrow’s game at Bowling Green (7-10-1 CCHA, 11-13-1 overall).
After 22 games, No. 6 Michigan (8-5-1, 13-8-1) could write the book about the tale of two halves. In their first 11 games, the team went 9-1-1 overall but since then have gone 5-8-0.
Michigan coach Red Berenson is no stranger to this scenario. The past two seasons, the Wolverines have suffered through a lull around the Great Lakes Invitational. Last season’s team hit a snag when it went 2-2-2 at the end of January, only to win 12 straight after that. Now approaching that same time of year this season, Berenson isn’t sure this team will be as prolific to end the year as last season’s squad was, but he is still positive.
“I think this weekend is a big weekend for Michigan,” Berenson said. “We have had to get back to the winning ways and start taking some steps forward. (The team) knows what they have to do, and hopefully, we’ll get back into doing it.”
One of the problems nagging the Wolverines lately has been penalties. In the last 11 games, Michigan has committed 117 penalties – which bumped the team’s average penalties per game up from 9 to 9.8. One extra penalty per game might not seem like much, but over the course of a season, one more per game may be the difference between a good season and an unforgettable one.
“I’m concerned about our penalties,” Berenson said. “The misconducts are not good for Michigan. Some penalties are good penalties, and some are not and we’ve taken more bad penalties than good.”
Senior captain Andrew Ebbett also acknowledged the Wolverines’ troubles with penalties.
“We have to stay away from the stick penalties. (It’s) work ethic, I mean those are lazy penalties – hooking and slashing,” Ebbett said. “You just have to stay disciplined, stay away from that stuff and just play in between the whistles.”
Another problem for the Wolverines has been their inability to take advantage when other teams commit penalties. Lost amongst the statistics of its poor power play conversion – zero for its last 23 – is that the team has given up six short-handed goals. It allowed that many all of last season.
What could make the difference for the Wolverines is the way they start the first period – they have scored just twice in the first period since the GLI. A good start is especially important this weekend against the Falcons. Bowling Green is 0-7-0 when trailing after the first period, but an impressive 6-2-1 when leading.
“That first period is the biggest period of the weekend for us,” Ebbett said. “We didn’t have a good start (against Michigan State), and we just want to have a good start and get that forecheck going and the power play. We’re too worried about special teams. We just have to go out there and play five-on-five hockey and the power play goals will come.”
The Falcons currently sit at sixth place in the CCHA with 15 points – two behind Michigan. Last weekend, Bowling Green split with Western Michigan and on Monday, they lost to Ferris State. But the team has a few quality wins, including a defeat of Northern Michigan, sweeps of Ohio State and Nebraska-Omaha and a pair of wins against the top two teams in the ECACHL – St. Lawrence and Colgate.
Berenson has decided to start goalie Noah Ruden on Friday, but he said he is not sure if the senior will start on Saturday. Ruden will be responsible for stopping Bowling Green forward Jonathan Matsumoto, the team’s leading goal scorer (14). Michigan will also have to look out for forward Alex Foster, who leads the Falcons with 40 points – 32 of them assists.
With the beginning of this series, Michigan hopes it can write a happy ending to its tale.
Bowling Green at
No. 6 Michigan
Yost Ice Arena