Berenson tells backliners to focus on defensive zone

Patti Behler
Sophomore Steve Kampfer and the rest of the Michigan defense have been told to focus on their own zone during the playoffs. (Said Alsalah/Daily)

Defensemen contributing offensively is always a “bonus,” according to Michigan coach Red Berenson.

The Wolverines enjoyed that bonus last weekend, when junior alternate captain Mark Mitera posted four assists against Ferris State. But he’s not the only blueliner making his presence felt on the offensive end.

Freshman Chad Langlais leads all Michigan defensemen in points with 17 helpers, and sophomore Steve Kampfer has posted nearly four times as many points (15) this season as he did last year.

“If any of our defensemen are making good passes or shots that create offense, that’s a bonus, that’s good, and obviously we encourage that,” Berenson said

While there’s no question that contributions from defensemen were key during the regular season, the increased offense from the blueline is likely to decrease with upcoming postseason play.

Instead, Berenson is reinforcing the unit’s focus to playing defense. Watching Ferris State light the lamp after a defensive breakdown in the third period Saturday didn’t sit well with the coach.

On the play, Kampfer came up to the slot, but missed the pass coming his way and found himself trapped on the wrong side of the ice. He watched helplessly as the Bulldogs tied the game.

“I don’t want our defensemen risking defense to try and get a goal or a point when we’re ahead,” Berenson said. “You’ve got to learn how to win. You win by playing smart. You win by playing defense.”

Even though the unit must place more emphasis on protecting goalie Billy Sauer heading into the CCHA playoffs, the defense has improved all year as a whole.

With a completely different defensive dynamic than last year – the Wolverines lost defensive stars Jack Johnson, Matt Hunwick and Jason Dest to the NHL – confidence is key for the remaining postseason tournaments, sophomore Chris Summers said.

“So you take those four guys out and all of a sudden you’re the go-to guy,” Berenson said. “It takes longer for defensemen to really get their whole game together than it does forwards, because when a defenseman makes a mistake, the opponents get a scoring chance.”

That makes confidence on the ice and focus on defense even more crucial come playoff time.

“This time of year in particular, this is huge,” Berenson said. “This is huge. It’s all about defense now.”

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