The Michigan hockey team has already played Boston University, Lake Superior State, Miami (Ohio) and Michigan State, all teams in consideration for the NCAA Tournament, on successive weekends. But their toughest stretch is still to come.
Oddly enough, it features just one ranked team as well as the eighth and 11th placed teams in the CCHA.
In a stretch of 10 days, the Wolverines will play five games. This includes a pair of weekday games against Bowling Green sandwiching their outdoor game against Wisconsin at the Camp Randall Classic on Saturday.
“The game is just as mentally draining as it is physically,” junior forward Matt Rust said. “Playing five games in 10 days is tough on the body, but it’s going to drain you mentally and with school as well. We’re going to have to be focused to be ready for it.”
After playing in two World Junior Championships, in which seven games are routinely played in eleven days, Rust is a veteran at playing successive games. But it has been a year since his last World Junior appearance.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played a schedule like that,” Rust said. “I’m familiar with it, personally I know how to get ready myself. I know a bunch of guys on the team have played in similar tournaments and similar atmospheres. I think it all comes down to the individual player and him knowing what he needs to do.”
Senior captain Chris Summers has also played in the World Junior Championships, and nearly everyone else on the team played in junior leagues before coming to Ann Arbor that demanded multiple games in a short amount of time.
Because many of the Wolverines are far removed from their junior days, Michigan coach Red Berenson does plan to make some changes.
“I don’t think fatigue will be an issue because we’ll shorten up practices,” Berenson said. “We may even have a day off where normally we wouldn’t. I think this will bring the best out in our team rather than a big change. I think the change is good.”
The change, and the competition may be coming at the right time for Michigan, as it sits currently sits on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture.
Coaching against the elements: When Michigan takes the ice in the Camp Randall Classic Saturday to take on No. 3 Wisconsin, it will still be hockey, but there will be a lot more unknowns heading into the game.
It’s the unknowns that Berenson may have to account for, more so than anybody who steps on the ice. The coaching staff will be the only carryovers from the “Cold War,” Michigan’s first outdoor game in 2001. These coaches will have to make the adjustments necessary for the outdoors.
“We might have to make some adjustments, like don’t stickhandle the puck, for example,” Berenson said. “If you can’t see it, just get it at the net, or whatever. Who knows what the lighting will be like. We’ll just have to take everything and see what strategy, if any, we’ll have to change, but I’m not overly concerned about that.”
Goaltending coach Josh Blackburn, who played in the “Cold War,” said the puck moved a lot faster in his outdoor game. Berenson expects that to be the case again.
“The ice is going to be a lot better than all the ice I played on outside,” Berenson said. “It’s not like it’s hosed down over a bunch of bumps with snow out there. But it will be different. It might be windy, it might be snowing out, it will be different.”
Notes: Lindsay Sparks was a healthy scratch during Saturday night’s game for the first time since the Notre Dame series in mid-December. Sparks has three goals and four assists in 15 games this season. Jeff Rohrkemper was his replacement and is yet to record a point in 10 games. … Michigan currently sits at No. 20 in the PairWise rankings, the PairWise is used to differentiate between closely ranked teams when choosing the NCAA tournament field. The Wolverines were tied for 17th before this weekend.