KALAMAZOO — The Michigan hockey team’s special-teams performance has been lacking for much of the season, to say the least. Before the weekend, the Wolverines were ranked 49th of 59 teams nationally in power play goals per chances, capitalizing on just 13 of 100 opportunities.
Improving appeared to be a tough task especially when going up against No. 9 Western Michigan, whose special teams ranked in the top ten nationally and first in the CCHA. But it was the Wolverines’ penalty kill that looked deserving of the acclaim during the weekend.
Michigan killed off all but one penalty in the series, continuing a stretch of strong play with a man down.
Michigan scored twice on eight extra-man chances in a weekend when it only scored three goals, making the most of an offense that sputtered late in the game. The power-play performance ultimately didn’t make a difference in the outcome, as the Wolverines fell both nights to the Broncos.
“The only thing that looked good (Saturday) was the power play,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “The penalty killing was pretty good. We have to face facts — we have to get better.”
Although much of the work during practices in recent weeks has been in special teams, Michigan failed to do simple things on offense.
“Some of the goals they scored were the result of our poor puck passing and poor puck handling,” Berenson said. “All of the sudden, we turn it over and it’s in the net. It can be defense, but it can also be what you’re doing with the puck.”
NEXT GOALIE UP: Seven of Western Michigan’s goals came at even strength, leaving more blame on the already struggling goaltender postion.
Junior goaltender Adam Janecyk — who shutout the Broncos in his first start of the season on Dec. 15th — allowed five goals in a game for the first time in his career.
The loss was his third in a row, bringing his record to 3-7 and goals-against average to 3.80 in the past five games.
The Ada, Mich. native was the victim of bad bounces on early goals, but was lucky to finish the game with only five goals allowed.
Early in the first period of Saturday’s contest, Janecyk came out of the net to play the puck as he does frequently, regardless of the pressure streaking down the ice. Skating behind the net, Janecyk fell, leaving the net wide open, but thanks to the defense in front of him and “puck luck,” he escaped without sacrificing another goal.
Janecyk’s performance on Saturday prompted Berenson to play freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge for the remaining 16 minutes of the game. Rutledge, who last played in an exhibition against the U.S. under-18 team in a 5-3 loss on Jan. 4, saw little action in a slow third period.
“I thought (Janecyk) played really well in the first period, but after that it wasn’t a goalie’s game,” Berenson said. “We didn’t help him enough and I would say it was a double-edged sword — I wanted to get Rutledge in and I didn’t want to crucify Janecyk.”
LAWSON LUNATICS: Playing the ninth-ranked team in the country on the road makes winning a challenge when you’re looking to turn around your season.
But it may be an even tougher thing to do when you have the misfortune of traveling to Western Michigan’s Lawson Ice Arena, home of the infamous Lawson Lunatics.
The Lunatics, who receive tickets as a part of tuition, line up as early as three hours before the game to get a ticket — often earlier than players, coaches, and ushers arrive. Oftentimes, students are turned away after waiting for an hour to get a coveted ticket.
With a team bound for its second-consecutive berth in the NCAA Tournament, and an opponent with a storied history, it wasn’t surprising game attendance was at a season-high.
“The important thing about coming on the road is that if you can take the crowd out of the game it makes a big difference,” Berenson said. “Unfortunately, we let them back in the game, but nevertheless I didn’t think they were a factor in the game.”
Added freshman forward Andrew Copp: “It’s kind of fun, actually. You know you have to match that intensity and energy so it’s all we have. (The Broncos) have the crowd behind them.
“I think it helps bring a lot of energy to the guys — we’re here now, let’s shut them up.”