Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson started this week of practice, the program’s last ever in a CCHA regular season before the Big Ten hockey conference starts next season, by addressing his team.
“You’ve got to play for us and finish the season strong,” Berenson said near center ice. “The fun part is in the locker room after the game.”
He was referring, of course, to the Wolverines’ tradition of singing “The Victors” in their locker room after series sweeps. And entering into what Berenson referred to as “absolutely” the most important games of the season — a two-game set against Ferris State this weekend — Michigan could badly use all six points that hang in the balance before the CCHA playoffs begin next weekend.
The Wolverines don’t control their own destiny to host a first-round series at Yost Ice Arena, but that possibility becomes far more realistic if Michigan could sweep. It’s extremely unlikely the Wolverines would play at home in the first round without a sweep. (For a more complete list of playoff possibilities, click here).
“I just hope we play at home,” said Berenson, who added he’ll have his eye on the around-the-league scoreboard. “That’s our first goal. We’ll see where the smoke clears. You look at all the options this weekend —a lot of different scenarios could happen. If we’re playing at home, that means we had a good weekend.
“And if we had a good weekend, that means we’ve got a little momentum going.”
Though all signs point to freshman goalie Steve Racine returning to the net after the team’s sweep of Ohio State last weekend, Berenson was tight-lipped about who the starter will be.
“I didn’t tell you last week, did I?” Berenson asked reporters. “Then I’m not going to tell you this week. I guess I’m getting superstitious.”
Though Racine was tagged for three goals in both games against the Buckeyes, the team would like to shift as much pressure off him as possible.
“It was easy to blame the goalies early,” Berenson said. “And then after awhile, we realized the goalies aren’t hurting the power play. It’s not the goalies’ fault we’re losing faceoffs. It’s not the goalies’ fault we’re not backchecking well or that we’re turning the puck over. Our team has realized that they have to play better, and they are.
“And as a result, the goalies look better.”
But this weekend is important for reasons besides the playoff seeding implications and it being the last regular-season CCHA contests ever for Michigan. The Wolverines will also be sending off their five-man senior class: forwards Jeff Rohrkemper, Lindsay Sparks, Kevin Lynch, captain A.J. Treais and defenseman Lee Moffie.
“It’s going to be pretty sad,” Moffie said of playing what could possibly be his last games ever at Yost. “We don’t really like to talk about it, the guys in my class. It’s gone by so fast, especially this year.”
Added Treais: “It’s going to be a little depressing, sad. This has been my home for the past four years. I love playing here and, it potentially being my last two games here, they’re going to be pretty emotional.”
Berenson said he hopes the team will one day look back on this year’s senior night as the 2010-11 team can as then-senior forward and current New York Ranger Carl Hagelin scored the game-tying goal in regulation’s final minute before sealing the win in overtime with another tally.
To be in the games late, though, Michigan will need to shut down the CCHA’s top power-play team. During these teams’ earlier meetings in Big Rapids on Nov. 30-Dec. 1, the Bulldogs struck twice on the man advantage the first night in their 5-0 rout of the Wolverines. In the series finale, the penalty killers came alive and Michigan held the Ferris State power play scoreless in a 3-3 shootout win.
Berenson said Friday night will be especially important to set the tone for a successful weekend to honor the seniors and possibly spring Michigan in the standings.
“That series (against Ferris) was part of our worst part of our season,” he said. “The way we approach this (first) game — this game is the weekend.”