The Michigan hockey program has seen better days.
After Northern Michigan delivered the Wolverines a 5-3 defeat on Saturday, Michigan coach Red Berenson reflected on the state of the Wolverines.
“We are not the same team that we were in the 1990s,” Berenson said.
The numbers tell the same story.
Northern Michigan (3-0-1 CCHA, 3-0-1 overall) secured its first sweep of the Wolverines since 1984.
After two NCAA Championships and seven Frozen Four appearances in the last 10 years, Berenson”s team now appears to be vulnerable. After its worst start since the 1986-87 campaign, Michigan (1-3-1, 2-4-1) finds itself in a tie for eighth place in the conference.
The first loss of the weekend featured a battle of masterful goaltenders. Michigan”s Josh Blackburn and Northern”s Craig Kowalski put on a show, turning away a combined 51-of-52 shots. Northern”s Ryan Carrigan scored the game winner 53 seconds into overtime.
But on Saturday both netminders looked very human.
“They can”t stand on their head night after night,” Berenson said. “These guys are good goalies. Sometimes goalies can be good and sometimes they”re lucky, but they can”t always be good and they can”t always be lucky.”
The Wildcats dominated on the powerplay, scoring three goals in less than four minutes with an extra attacker.
But Northern opened the scoring four minutes into the game during five-on-five play. Michigan freshman defenseman Brandon Rogers lost control of the puck when it hit linesman Bruce Vida”s skate. Northern”s Mike Stutzel quickly turned the fluke turnover into a 1-0 lead, using a 2-on-1 breakaway to beat Blackburn.
Michigan answered four minutes later when Mike Cammalleri won a faceoff and Mark Mink scored on a wrist shot.
After Northern scored its first powerplay goal of the night, the Wolverines reeled off two quick points to pull ahead 3-2 early in the second period.
Dave Moss made a well-timed centering pass from the corner to fellow freshman Dwight Helminen for the second goal, and Cammalleri fired a one-timer past Kowalski with a two-man advantage to secure the Wolverines” first lead of the weekend.
But that was all the offense that Michigan could muster.
The Wildcats scored three unanswered goals to sweep the series and earn a spot atop the CCHA standings.
The Wildcats” coach, Rick Comley, blamed Michigan”s poor start and sudden vulnerability on its youth and inexperience.
“You just can”t expect to replace juniors with freshmen,” said Comley in reference to the early departures of Mike Comrie, Andy Hilbert and Jeff Jillson over the last two years.
But don”t tell the members of this Michigan team that they are too young.
“Youth doesn”t factor in for us,” Cammalleri said. “I think that we”re sick of being called a young team. I think the freshmen are sick of being called young players. They don”t play like it out there.”
Things won”t get any easier for the Wolverines anytime soon. Their next two series will be on the road against Alaska-Fairbanks and Nebraska-Omaha, which swept No. 1 Michigan State this weekend.
“If we can be better than .500 by the middle of December, then we will have a shot in the second half,” Berenson said. “We could go on a string (of victories) or we could go the other way. I think we are fragile right now.”
The Wolverines competed on Saturday without two of their top veteran forwards captain Jed Ortmeyer and senior Craig Murray.
Ortmeyer was sidelined with a minor concussion and is expected to be available for the trip to Alaska.
Murray suffered a first-degree shoulder separation and will most likely return against Nebraska-Omaha.