OXFORD — Scrambling to recover the puck after a lost face-off.
Scrambling back to the defensive zone to try to stop a RedHawk breakaway.
Scrambling to score, down one goal, in Saturday’s final period.
The chaotic, all-over-the-place jumbled play defined the Michigan hockey team’s weekend series against Miami (Ohio).
And after a weekend of constant, frantic struggles, the Wolverines had nothing to show for it. No wins, no ties, no points. With its 2-1 loss on Saturday, Michigan has already surpassed the total losses it had last regular season — six.
The ninth-ranked Wolverines (5-5-0 CCHA, 8-6-0 overall) mustered just one goal through six periods on the weekend, which included Friday’s 2-0 loss.
“(It was) a little bit of puck luck, a little bit of not going to the net or not having confidence,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I know some of our guys haven’t scored in over a month. You’re not going to go very far with just one or two guys scoring.”
Junior defenseman Chris Summers scored Michigan’s only goal of the weekend on a beautiful slap shot from the left point into the top right corner of the Miami net with five minutes left in Saturday’s second period. Summers’ tally broke a four-frame scoreless streak for the Wolverines.
But at that point, the RedHawks still had a one-goal advantage, and they didn’t plan on losing a lead for the first time all weekend.
Michigan’s last-ditch efforts in Saturday’s final period proved futile as shot after shot was deflected, stopped or clanged loudly off the post. The Wolverines won just 40.3 percent of faceoffs in that contest, and most of the losses came at key moments during Michigan power plays.
“It sucks,” sophomore center Louie Caporusso said. “When you don’t win draws late in the game, and you’re down by a goal, it sucks.”
Berenson has said it all season, and he said it again this weekend: Goals are precious.
But taking care of the puck to prevent goals against is valuable, too.
Miami’s goals came off good positioning, lucky bounces and, most significantly, Wolverine turnovers. Michigan had trouble clearing pucks out of its defensive zone all weekend, a problem that has persisted since senior defenseman Mark Mitera and junior defenseman Steve Kampfer went out of the lineup with injuries in the season’s opening weekend.
Sophomore Aaron Palushaj said a major difference between the teams was that Miami’s defensemen could clear pucks out of their zone, and Michigan’s couldn’t.
“I think we were lackadaisical at times,” senior goaltender Billy Sauer said after Friday’s loss. “There were times we thought we had the puck out or guaranteed the time to get it out, and … we were just thinking we had it out when we didn’t. Then, we end up scrambling, and everyone has to come back and help out.”
On both nights, Michigan turnovers led directly to RedHawk goals. Miami coach Enrico Blasi said Saturday his team has to execute when it forces turnovers, which it did.
“Anytime you turn the puck over in your own zone, it’s a change of possession and opens a scoring chance,” Berenson said.
Berenson said the turnover that led to Miami’s second Saturday goal cost Michigan the game.
Losing Friday night games has been a trend for the Wolverines this season, but they have often come back to split series with Saturday wins.
Not this weekend.
Not even with 25 shots on goal on Saturday, many of those good scoring chances. Not even with sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan’s career-best 32 saves. Not even with dominant penalty killing.
The RedHawks (8-2-2, 8-3-3) remained atop the CCHA with the sweep, which was the first time Michigan has been swept on the road since Dec. 2-3, 2005. That series was in Oxford, too. If the Wolverines had won this weekend’s series, they would have inched within one point of Miami and become a top contender in the conference. Instead, they are nine points behind the RedHawks.
Yet surprisingly, after the loss, the Michigan players seemed positive. Summers and Caporusso spoke of the improvement they saw from Friday to Saturday and how they felt they played well enough to win.
“I thought maybe Friday night we didn’t play as well, but (Saturday) we played a solid game,” Summers said. “The difference is going to be that they capitalized on their opportunities and we didn’t on all of ours.”