There’s one word that automatically raises the stakes at any Ohio State sporting event: Michigan.
“There’s no question they love to beat Michigan,” Wolverine hockey assistant coach Mel Pearson said. “And I don’t think we can beat them enough.”
Everyone knows about Bo and Woody and the 10-year war. But on the ice recently, another intense rivalry has emerged.
Historically, the Wovlerines have had the overwhelming edge, leading the all-time series 61-28-11. Michigan has always focused most of its attention on its in-state rival, Michigan State.
In the past couple of years, however, Ohio State has made its presence known.
The Wolverines and Buckeyes have split the last four series they’ve played.
Two years ago, a game in Columbus ended in a brawl at the buzzer, and nobody exchanged customary post-game handshakes. Michigan lost the contest, 6-5, after Ohio State scored the game-winner with 1:30 left in regulation.
Last year, the 3-10-1 CCHA-bottom-dwelling Buckeyes halted the top-ranked Wolverines’ 12-game winning streak.
Records don’t seem to matter when these teams clash.
“They always play us hard, right to the buzzer,” senior forward Travis Turnbull said.
Knowing that this weekend’s series would be particularly tough helped Michigan focus this week in practice. Sophomore forward Matt Rust said the team has increased its intensity level.
Coming off a crushing 7-2 loss to Boston University last weekend, the Wolverines (1-1-0 CCHA, 4-2-0 overall) didn’t need much motivation to step it up this weekend. But playing a big-name rival helps, too.
“(The Buckeyes) look aggressive,” Pearson said. “They look strong. They play on the edge. We’re going to have our hands full. I think we have enough things to work on. We have a lot to prove to ourselves.”
Special teams is a work in progress. Michigan gave up five power-play goals in the loss to BU, and went just 2-for-12 on its man advantage. The Wolverines spent most of the week in practice working on special teams, often breaking into 5-on-3 advantages to test the penalty kill.
Starting tonight at Yost Ice Arena, Michigan will need to sharpen every aspect of its game against a team that has surprised top opponents. The Buckeyes (1-2-1, 2-3-1) have a young roster boasting just five upperclassmen, and were pegged to finish in the bottom half of the CCHA before the season.
But Ohio State came from behind last Saturday to knock off then-No. 2 Denver, 4-3, in one of the biggest upsets in college hockey so far this year.
“They probably have the momentum,” sophomore forward Carl Hagelin said. “And every team wants to beat us, but it’s still up to our team to play our best and prove to everyone that we have a great team.”
Injury Update: Freshman defenseman Brandon Burlon, who suffered an ankle injury during the preseason, skated with the team for all of practice Wednesday and Thursday. Berenson said Burlon will not play tonight, but could “maybe” play tomorrow night. “He’s in that in-between stage where it’s ‘Okay, I’m not going to re-injure it, but can I play hard enough and well enough to even get caught up to game speed?’” Berenson said.