MARQUETTE – They had their chances.

The Wolverines outshot their Northern Michigan counterparts for two consecutive nights. Yet it was the Wildcats who executed as Michigan waited for Northern Michigan goalie Craig Kowalski to allow a goal.

Michigan had its chances to go into the winter break deserving of a top-10 ranking.

But after an inspiring weekend in Minneapolis and Madison, the Wolverines could do no better than lose to Northern Michigan for the fourth and fifth straight time, leaving many questions to be answered before the Great Lakes Invitational later this month.

There were a number of chances that the Wolverines saw in front of the net.

And yet – besides two goals on the weekend by Michigan freshman Brandon Kaleniecki – the Wildcats were the ones who actually took advantage of their opportunities, scoring five third-period goals (two of them empty-netters) to Michigan’s one on Friday.

Now the Wolverines leave Marquette an exposed team, and they know it.

“I knew that people were overrating our team, and our team needs to understand how hard you have to work to compete in this league every night,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I kept saying before, ‘We’re not that good, and we’ve got to get better if we’re going to beat anyone that’s a good team.'”

The talent is there, but so far this season, the production has not been.

Montoya has proven himself to be everything that his predecessors were as freshmen.

The losses of Mike Cammalleri and Mike Komisarek have not yet doomed the Wolverines’ season like many had thought they might.

The freshmen skaters – Kaleniecki, Jeff Tambellini, Andrew Ebbett and defenseman Danny Richmond – have looked like anything but newcomers when on the ice.

So where’s the problem?

“The puck wasn’t going in, obviously,” Berenson said. “Our powerplay was a little better (Saturday) night. I thought we had better control and we had better shots. … Our powerplay, it’s an issue obviously, and we don’t have the confidence right now that we need to have. But that’s something we’re going to work on in the second half. We have a lot of things to get better at.”

But even though the puck may not be going in when it should, it is still being spread around too much. No one wants to take the extra shot.

With all the praise bestowed on the team this season, there hasn’t been an individual who has been able to take control of a game from an offensive standpoint. There is not one Michigan player in the nation’s top 100 in points per game.

Sophomore Dwight Helminen is the only Wolverine in the top 50 in any offensive category (when looking at per game averages) thanks to his three shorthanded goals.

But Michigan isn’t going to go to the Frozen Four on just shorthanded goals.

It’s now time for a John Shouneyia or Eric Nystrom, who was just named to the United States World Junior team last week, or even a talented, but very raw, Milan Gajic to produce more than one point a night, which no one except Helminen is close to doing.

As was evident this weekend, Montoya can’t win every game by himself. His streak of recovering well after allowing four or more goals was snapped at three games, when he surrendered three one night after giving up four.

What it means is that everyone on the team must find a role and stick with it. The scorers need to emerge so that scrappy players like Kaleniecki are actually fighting to get in front of the net for a reason. The defense needs to clamp down on clearing Montoya’s rebounds, because good teams like Northern Michigan will show no mercy in making Michigan look second-rate.

When the Wolverines return from the break, they will have their work cut out for them. Teams like Ferris State, Miami and Ohio State have all gone from pretenders to contenders and pose serious threats to the defending CCHA champs. Michigan State is vulnerable, but with a 6-2 win against the Bulldogs on Friday, the Spartans showed there is still plenty of life in East Lansing.

“We did enough good things to come out of here better than being swept,” Berenson said.

Good can only go so far. It’s time for “great” to emerge, or Michigan will be swept more often in the much tougher second half of the season.

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