The Michigan hockey team knew it needed to sweep Western Michigan this past weekend. Lo and behold, the Wolverines earned two wins over the last-place Broncos. It was Michigan’s first conference weekend sweep since the end of October against Lake Superior State.

With the sweep, Michigan propelled itself into a tie for seventh in the CCHA. The wins also gave the Wolverines some momentum for the second half of the season, with the defining chunk of their schedule still to come in the next three weeks.

But at the end of the day, everyone needs to be reminded that Michigan did nothing more than beat a mediocre Western Michigan squad that has seen better days, a team the Wolverines should beat handily nine times out of 10.

So, for anyone claiming Michigan is on its way to finishing in the top four of the CCHA or making it to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th-straight year needs to step back and realize this team has proven it is just, well, average at this point.

And until it defeats any team of significance, it will continue to be a mediocre squad which has underperformed all season.

On paper, Michigan has one of the best crops of talented players in the conference, maybe even in the country. It boasts 11 NHL draft-picks and a multitude of other solid, well-rounded players. While counting the number of NHL draftees isn’t a fool-proof method for assessing a team’s talent, many Wolverines have been recognized as players with the skill-set to potentially have a shot at the next level.

This team beat now-No. 4 Wisconsin over Thanksgiving break — its signature win of the season. Michigan played one of its best games of the season, defensively, winning 3-2 in a “man’s game,” according to coach Red Berenson.

That win, in contrast with the Wolverines’ recent performance on the ice, further indicates that the team is playing beneath its potential. But if they have the skills, where is the success?

The Wolverines have been swept by Miami and Michigan State, No. 1 and No. 2 in the CCHA respectively, and they split series with Ohio State and Bowling Green.

The Wolverines’ struggles must stem from another fault — it could be the lack of consistent play on the defensive side of the redline. Or it could be the inefficient power play that has struggled to get the puck on net. It could potentially be any number of things.

“We’ll turn it around,” Berenson said after his team’s second loss to Michigan State in the middle of November. “It’s just a matter of when. It’s like any team, there’s going to be a weak point in your season.”

The entire team is still experiencing that weak point, and the transition from average to a team in contention, still hasn’t happened.

It’ll be decided when the Wolverines face off against Alaska, Ferris State and Michigan State the next three weekends — three of the top four teams in the CCHA.

So, in actuality, the sweep of Western Michigan means nothing, unless the Wolverines show something new in the next few weeks — something that proves it was a turning point.

Berenson said he breaks down the season into small, 10-game segments, where the coaching staff and players analyze different aspects of the team’s performance and how they can improve in the coming weeks.

In the first 20 games, Michigan finished with a sub-par 10-10 overall record.

The next 10 games will define this team’s season and whether it makes it to the NCAA Tournament.

But for now, Michigan is nothing exciting, and it must keep this weekend’s results in perspective.

It defeated a pitiful Bronco team and until it knocks off a conference powerhouse, the Wolverines are and will continue to be average.

— Burns can be reached at burnmark@umich.edu

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