Last year, the Michigan hockey team donned the uniforms that coach Red Berenson used to wear when he played for the Wolverines. When Berenson was an upperclassman at Michigan wearing the same sweater, nearly fifty years ago, it was the last time a Wolverine knew the feeling of defeating Michigan State seven times in a row.

“I just remember we were the stronger program at that time,” Berenson said. “I didn’t know much about Michigan State, but I found out real quick how hard they battled in these games. It was a real rivalry, and I wasn’t familiar with that.”

No. 6 Michigan takes on one of its biggest rivals in No. 13 Michigan State in a home-and-home weekend series, starting tonight at Yost Ice Arena. The Wolverines are looking to rebound from a disappointing sweep at the hands of No. 1 Miami (Ohio) last weekend, and are riding a six-game win streak over the Spartans.

Berenson liked the way his team played against the RedHawks for fractions of periods, but he said Michigan (2-2-0 CCHA, 4-4-0 overall) looked like it was “skating in sand” at times.

The lethargic defense, coupled with a few soft goals given up by junior goalie Bryan Hogan, played a role in last weekend’s 3-1 and 5-1 losses.

Several players talked about picking up the intensity and effort, especially in the defensive zone. Berenson emphasized defense this week in practice.

“It’s easy to blame the goalie (for giving up goals),” Berenson said. “And in some cases it is his fault. But when the rest of your players are standing around not doing what they’re supposed to do, not doing what they practice, not doing (what is expected). That’s their job.

“Don’t worry about our goalie, he’ll make the saves he can make. But we have to play better defensively.”

Berenson and junior forward Matt Rust agreed that the effort and strong play on defense has to start at the top. If Rust and other members of the top lines struggle defensively, it could be another long weekend for Michigan.

Michigan State (4-1-0, 7-2-1) is first in the CCHA in scoring offense (3.5 goals per game) and the power play (25.4 percent).

“Michigan State might show us that they are the most talented team we’ve played this year,” Berenson said. “I say that just watching the tapes. And I think they might have more skill, more talent, than Miami has, and more than (Boston University). If that’s true, we’re going to have to be at our best defensively.”

Michigan’s penalty kill has been its strength early in the season, even though the Wolverines gave up two power-play goals to the RedHawks last weekend. Michigan is second in the CCHA and sixth in Division I on the penalty kill with a 90 percent success rate.

Berenson said he has confidence in his starting goalie, and Hogan said he is no longer thinking about last weekend’s series against Miami. This weekend’s outcome depends on how well the defense supports Hogan and if the Wolverines can slow down the potent Spartan attack.

If Michigan can stay out of the penalty box, the Wolverines would avoid adding insult to injury. Even though they have had success on the penalty kill, they have accrued far too many penalties. The Wolverines are second in the country in penalty minutes, with more than 24 minutes per game.

Something has to give — whether it’s Michigan State’s power play or Michigan’s penalty kill. And the Michigan defense could be key in turning the Wolverines’ fortunes.

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