At the end of October, the Michigan hockey team was off to its worst start in over a decade (2-4-1 overall, 1-3-1 CCHA), and had just been swept at home by Northern Michigan.
But the team has finished off the semester strong and is playing like the No. 4 team it was projected to be at the beginning of the year.
The Wolverines are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games with the lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Minnesota. In addition, the Wolverines are playing strong road hockey six of those eight wins came away from Yost Ice Arena.
“We have played well on the road and I think it has been good for us a young team to get to know each other,” said associate head coach Mel Pearson. “We do have to establish a home ice presence and play like we have been playing on the road hard, strong and together.”
Michigan has put together a five-game winning streak, its longest run since the beginning of last season. In addition, the Wolverines have drastically improved their powerplay performance from a 9.3-percent success rate to 18.8-percent efficiency. Meanwhile, the penalty kill has lowered opponents” powerplay conversion rate by 5.2 percent to 13.8 percent.
In addition, stronger play on defense has helped goalie Josh Blackburn lower his goals-against average from 2.99 to 2.71 and improve his save percentage to .897.
The Wolverines will try to continue their string of success against Harvard this weekend. That will be Michigan”s final game before it plays North Dakota in the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 28.
While most people associate Harvard with its 300 Rhodes Scholars instead of with its 30 Olympians, it does have a celebrated athletic history. Harvard”s hockey program which started in January of 1898 is the oldest college hockey program in the U.S., and the Crimson captured a national championship in 1989.
But Harvard will bring more to Yost than its history. The Crimson were picked to finish first in the ECAC at the beginning of the year and received 23 top 15 votes in this week”s USCHO poll.
“I am very impressed with their team,” Pearson said. “They have a big team, they are going to be bigger than we are. They skate well and should give us a good test.”
What makes this game particularly hard for Michigan”s players is that it falls during the final exam period. The coaches canceled practice yesterday so that players would be able to focus on their schoolwork.
In addition to academic distractions, the Wolverines must deal with the loss of center Mike Cammalleri, who left for Team Canada tryouts on Sunday.
With Michigan playing its best hockey of the season, the holiday break comes at an inopportune time, and may break up the rhythm of the team.
“We have some younger players that are really starting to understand what it takes night-in and night-out to be successful at this level,” Pearson said. “You can tell they are starting to get an idea of what it really takes to win, so the break does take away from that.”