SAULT STE. MARIE — Going into this past weekend’s series with Lake Superior State, the Michigan hockey team held a 6-1-1 record when scoring the first goal of the game.
But as head coach Red Berenson has said all year, the Wolverines have played from behind far too often, which is why when Michigan took a 2-0 lead during Friday’s first period, and a 1-0 lead just 5:19 into Saturday’s game against the Lakers, it looked like Michigan (5-11-2 CCHA, 8-14-2 overall) might have enough for a series sweep.
Despite using Friday’s early lead to hold on for a 6-4 victory, the Wolverines didn’t have that same luck on Saturday. They lost 3-2 after the Lakers (8-9-1, 13-12-1) scored a third-period goal to clinch the victory.
“We’ve had bits of pieces for games and we haven’t had a good first period lately,” Berenson said Friday. “That was our best first period in probably a month, and then I thought we played pretty good after that. We held the storm in the second period, and we got the goals we needed.”
Michigan took a four-game losing streak into the weekend — one that saw the Wolverines continuously fall behind early, making it very difficult to mount a comeback. Berenson said that, “you survive because you have a lead,” which proved to be true on Friday. Despite Lake Superior State’s two goals in both the second and third period, the two-goal lead that Michigan held for the majority of the game was just enough to stave off a late Laker rally.
SINELLI SURFACES: Freshman forward Andrew Sinelli hasn’t seen a lot of playing time this season.
Prior to this past weekend, he had appeared in just seven games all season. He was given a chance to shine in Sault Ste. Marie though, and he used the opportunity to impress the coaches.
Sinelli’s two assists on Friday doubled his point total on the year. Considering that he plays on the fourth line — one that doesn’t have the highest scoring expectations — production from this line is seen as a pleasant bonus.
Along with his offensive contributions, the Dexter, Mich. native also found himself playing a pivotal role on the penalty-kill unit and in the defensive zone. Though he wasn’t the most talented player on the ice, his hustle and gritty play was exactly what the Michigan defense — which has allowed a CCHA-worst 3.50 goals per game — needed to get going.
“Sinelli is definitely adding energy to our lineup and good for him,” Berenson said. “He hasn’t played a lot this year, but the way he’s playing right now, he’ll play a lot.”
PENALTY-KILL SUCCESS: A week ago, Alaska’s power play went an impressive 3-for-10 against the Wolverines in a dominant showing. Michigan rarely cleared the puck from its own zone and didn’t block the necessary Nanook shots to stop the puck from getting to the net.
The Wolverines knew what to fix, though, as the penalty-kill unit held Lake Superior State to just 1-for-7 on the power play — good enough for an 85.8 percent kill rate. During Saturday’s contest especially, besides the Lakers’ lone power-play goal, Michigan dominated possession of the puck, which resulted in very few offensive chances for Lake Superior State.
“(The penalty killers) are dialed in, and they know they’re up against it, and they need to get better,” Berenson said. “Sometimes you have to be lucky. I thought we blocked shots tonight better than last week, and that can be a factor.”
Berenson also noted that the return of junior defenseman Kevin Clare, who had missed the past two series with an upper-body injury, added a much-needed defensive presence to the penalty-kill unit.