One might expect that any college hockey team that loses its top
two scorers to the NHL and three defensemen to graduation will have
adjustment problems the next season. No one would expect that team
to be leading the CCHA eight games into conference play.
Ohio State — Michigan’s opponent this weekend
— has done just that. The Buckeyes (6-2 CCHA, 7-4 overall)
have utilized the experience of nine seniors this season to jump to
the top of the conference standings. With eight goals, senior
forward Paul Caponigri has helped ease the loss of wingers R.J.
Umberger and Ryan Kesler, who departed to the professional ranks.
The Buckeyes also return senior goalie Mike Betz, who is among the
conference leaders with a 1.90 goals against average.
“They’re a good team, and this will be a good test
for us,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We’ll
be focused on Friday’s game. That’ll be the game that
sets the tone.”
Last year, the Friday night game set the tone for the two games
that Michigan played against the Buckeyes. Michigan forward Abdrew
Ebbett sent the game into overtime when he scored a goal with one
second remaining in regulation. The game ended in a 4-4 tie. The
teams also tied in another overtime game on Saturday, 3-3.
This year, the intensity will be high once again as the
Wolverines will look to unseat the Buckeyes from their position
atop the CCHA standings. To add fuel to the fire, Michigan has
struggled when it has had to play outside of Yost Ice Arena. The
Wolverines have dropped two of their three road contests this year
and have been outscored 17-12 in those games.
Last week’s 6-5 loss at Ferris State was particularly
costly to the Wolverines. Andy Burnes, the Wolverines’
captain and top defender, separated his collarbone from his sternum
during the overtime period and will not travel with the team this
Burnes’ absence, combined with the return of forward Jason
Ryznar (who had been out for much of the season because of injury),
has caused Berenson to shift the lines around on the team. Ryznar
will now team with sophomore winger Jeff Tambellini and freshman
forward T.J. Hensick. Nystrom will now team up with junior forward
“This isn’t a wholesale change,” Berenson
noted. “It’s so we can have two (playmakers) on each
Regardless of who wins this weekend, Berenson noted that Ohio
State has his respect.
“They weren’t a strong hockey rival 10 years ago,
but in the last five years they’ve had much better
teams,” Berenson said.