At first glance, Michigan hockey fans might think a two-game series with Lake Superior State is nothing to worry too much about.

So far this season, the Lakers have found a permanent spot at the bottom of the CCHA pecking order, managing just one win in 16 conference games. The Wolverines nearly blanked Lake Superior in a two-game series in mid-November at Yost Ice Arena, posting 4-1 and 3-0 wins en route to the sweep. Over the past two-and-a-half seasons, the Lakers are just 2-7 against the Wolverines.

But final scores and records don’t tell the whole story. There are a number of factors that make tonight’s battle in Sault Ste. Marie and Saturday’s game at Joe Louis Arena more dangerous for Michigan than the stats might indicate.

First of all, the November meetings were closer than the final goal counts show.

“It’s a team that has played us tough lately,” Michigan captain Jed Ortmeyer said of Lake Superior. “The first two games we played them this year were real tight, with not much separating the two teams. So we know they’re going to come in and work hard.”

Secondly, the Lakers are better than they were in November.

Lake Superior came into the first series with Michigan boasting just two wins in 10 games. Against the Wolverines, the Lakers’ power-play was an atrocious 0-for-11 in the two games.

But in their last six contests, the Lakers have lost just twice. That run includes a 7-1 assault of Michigan State on Jan. 3 in the Upper Peninsula. Their offense has picked up and they have tallied a power-play goal in six of their last eight games.

“I can’t tell you that they’ve won a lot (more) games, but they’re playing a lot better,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said of the Lakers’ recent play. “They’re scoring more goals, their power play has been more productive and they’re in every game now.”

Thirdly, both of these games will be played away from Yost Ice Arena.

This season, the Wolverines have managed just a 5-5-1 record on the road, compared to a 10-1 mark at home.

Their last away game was a stunning 4-3 loss to Western Michigan in Kalamazoo on Jan. 11. It came on the heels of Michigan’s 10-3 rout over the same Broncos the night before in Ann Arbor – an indication of how the Wolverines have struggled away from home.

Another reason the games might be close is that, when the puck is dropped tonight, it will be the Wolverines’ first game in 12 days. Michigan is coming off a bye week.

If the Wolverines come out flat and give up an early goal, it would only fuel an upset-minded crowd at Taffy Abel Arena and make things a lot more difficult for Michigan.

“You just hope that we can get through a few minutes of being rusty,” Berenson said of the start of Thursday’s contest. “Or maybe we can make up for (the long break) with energy and enthusiasm – that’s what you hope for.”

The Wolverines also can’t afford to take these games for granted. With the log jam at the top of the CCHA standings, they need every point to keep pace with the pack. Currently, Michigan is in third place, trailing Ferris State by six points and Ohio State by four.

The series will also be important for the Wolverines to show that they have shaken off any negative effects that might linger from the tough loss in Kalamazoo.

“We have a lot to prove, there’s no question, whether it’s to Lake Superior or to ourselves or to the rest of the league,” Berenson said. The Lakers have “a reason to put their best foot forward in both of these games and we do, too. These will be hard- fought games.”

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