Two L’s stand next to each other on the Michigan hockey team’s record as a painful reminder of the team’s low point so far this year.
The blemishes also represent the Wolverines’ turning point.
Six weeks ago, Michigan managed just one goal in its weekend series against Miami (Ohio). It was swept for the first time on the road in almost three years.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said his team was sporadic and inconsistent. After the final buzzer, the RedHawk players jumped on top of their goalie with obvious elation.
But despite a demoralizing weekend that dropped the Wolverines way down in the conference standings, the players seemed positive.
And then, almost out of nowhere, Michigan’s results began to match its attitude. It crushed then-top-ranked Minnesota, swept archrival Michigan State and cruised to its second-straight Great Lakes Invitational title. The Wolverines have won five of their last six games, with at least five goals in each victory.
And now, they aim for revenge against the team that embarrassed them in Oxford. Michigan hosts the RedHawks in Yost Ice Arena this weekend.
“Losing two in a row to Miami in Miami, obviously that kind of hits the heart a little bit and you want to get back at those guys,” sophomore center Louie Caporusso said. “Hopefully, all the guys will be hungry for this game.”
And not just tonight’s game, either. Berenson and his players have echoed the importance of a Michigan sweep — two conference wins and four points in the standings. The Wolverines currently sit at fifth place, nine points behind Miami and 10 behind CCHA-leading Notre Dame.
Because the top four teams in the conference get a bye in the CCHA Tournament in March, Michigan (7-5-0-0 CCHA, 13-7-0 overall) knows it must pick up points in the second half of the season.
“You have to beat the teams you’re trying to catch,” Berenson said. “If we split with Miami, we’re taking ourselves right out of the hunt.”
Would the team be happy with anything short of a sweep?
“Not really, no,” sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan said. “We need the four points.”
But the Wolverines are in a much better position to knock out Miami this time around.
“We had unknowns early,” Berenson said. “Now we’re getting a little bit of stability. Our defense is getting a little more confident. Our team is getting a little more consistent. … I like the direction we’re going in.”
Since the Nov. 21-22 sweep, Michigan has solidified the starting goalie spot. The departure from a netminder rotation has provided comfort and reliability for the Wolverines. A rejuvenated defense, thanks to the return of junior Steve Kampfer, has taken away pressure from the top-scoring forwards. An explosive group of forwards with multiple hat tricks in the past six weeks, has given the team breathing room.
And the RedHawks (10-2-2-1, 12-5-3) come into the matchup tonight having suffered two losses to nonconference opponents, the only time they’ve lost back-to-back games all season.
No. 8 Miami still sits comfortably in the conference standings. But with the main parts of the Wolverines’ game meshing, Michigan is primed for a second-half surge. That starts tonight with Miami, and the outcome could set the tone for a series showdown with Notre Dame at the end of the month.
“How good can we be?” Berenson said, then paused. “We still don’t know. I think you’ll see our best hockey in the second half.”