OMAHA Much has been written and said about the performance of Michigan hockey”s special teams this season.
Very little has been positive until now.
The young Wolverines got off to their worst start (2-4-1) since 1986. But now Michigan is winning again (3-0-1 during the last three weeks,) and the improved special teams play deserves some credit for the team”s resurgence.
Immediately after the poor start, the majority of the blame fairly or not fell on the shoulders of the powerplay and penalty-kill units.
After every game, new combinations were thrown together in hopes of solving the “problem.”
“We”re finding guys that seem to fit the bill, and we”re doing a better job at it,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We were using a lot more players to kill penalties, and now I”ve got it down to just a handful. We”re getting some continuity on the powerplay as well.”
It”s too early to claim that the Wolverines have finally found the perfect personnel for the job, but it”s clear that things are improving dramatically.
The penalty-kill unit is fast becoming one of Michigan”s strengths. Currently, the Wolverines are riding a streak of 24 consecutive penalties killed. One big reason for the turnaround has been improved forechecking.
The increased pressure by forwards like junior captain Jed Ortmeyer and freshman Dwight Helminen has prevented teams from getting good chances and forced them to waste precious powerplay time in their own zones.
Oftentimes this weekend, Nebraska-Omaha would watch its penalty expire before getting any real scoring chances.
“We”re really buying into the system,” Ortmeyer said. “We”re working hard, the coaches are giving us a great scouting plan. We know what they”re doing, and we”re executing.”
Clearing the puck out of the zone was especially troublesome for the Wolverines early in the season. But over the weekend the problem seemed to magically disappear the Mavericks were only able to mount one long, sustained attack on the powerplay, and they came away empty-handed.
The powerplay also came to life this weekend in Omaha.
Michigan scored two goals with the man-advantage on Friday night something it hasn”t been able to do since its first win of the season.
The man doing most of the damage has been junior alternate captain Mike Cammalleri.
From the point, Cammalleri demonstrated a remarkable knack for finding open teammates with cross-ice passes and showed-off his devastating slap-shot, which found the net twice this weekend.
Freshman Eric Werner has taken over the other spot on the blue line, and his confidence will only continue to grow if he can create as many good chances for himself and his teammates as he did this weekend.
Ortmeyer, junior John Shouneyia and freshman Eric Nystrom join Cammalleri and Werner to form the best No. 1 powerplay combination that Michigan has fielded this season.
“Puck movement is the key for us on the powerplay,” Cammalleri said. “Having five guys working together as a one man unit just moving the puck around.”
But most importantly, the Wolverines are getting shots on net and lots of them.
The powerplay unit may not be notching goals on every opportunity, but as long as it continues to pepper opposing goaltenders with quality shots, good things will happen.
“We”re getting better,” Berenson said of the special teams this weekend. “It”s something we have to keep working on.”