KALAMAZOO — Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson likes to talk about how his team’s best players need to be its best players. But what happens when opponents’ top players aren’t their top players?

In what has become a disturbing trend, opposing third- and fourth-line skaters continued to produce in No. 9 Western Michigan’s sweep of Michigan this weekend.

“That’s amazing,” Berenson said incredulously. “It’s amazing. It’s either really bad luck, or really bad goalkeeping and defense. And it might be a combination of both.”

Disbelief was apparent on the coach’s face as he described how the most unheralded players on opposing rosters are consistently beating his team. Berenson added that the unaccounted for scoring isn’t the result of line matching, with opponents taking advantage of Michigan’s lesser defensive forwards.

During Saturday night’s 5-1 dominating Bronco victory, Western Michigan’s Josh Pitt scored just his second goal of the season, Shane Berschbach recorded his third tally of the season and Colton Hargrove scored his fourth and fifth. All three are forwards, and all three are miles behind the team’s scoring leaders, Chase Balisy and Dane Walters, in terms of offensive production.

In fact, Walters — who Berenson compared to former Wolverine Luke Glendening in the week leading up to the series — and Balisy were both held pointless on the weekend. Surely, a series in which Michigan managed to shut down its opponent’s two scoring leaders would result in a major step forward for the defense, right?

Wrong. The CCHA’s worst defense (by over half a goal per game) still looked like the CCHA’s worst defense — the exceptions being both first periods when the Wolverines held the Broncos scoreless before the floodgates eventually opened.

If this were an isolated instance of the Wolverines making opponents’ mediocrity look magnificent, there might not be cause for concern. But because of the problem’s longevity, Berenson is left with the dumbfounded look he wore when asked about it after Saturday’s game.

Perhaps he would be able to ignore it if Western Michigan’s bottom-six success was an abnormality. On Jan. 18 against Lake Superior State, for example, two Lakers scored their first goals of the season in the second period of Michigan’s 6-4 win.

“There’s no question about it,” Berenson said Saturday. “This has gone on all year. If anyone hasn’t scored against anyone else, they’ll score against us.”

To freshman forward Andrew Copp, those goals are merely the result of hard work by those frequently unsung players.

“I wouldn’t pay any mind to that,” Copp said. “I think it’s just kind of what ends up happening. A lot of time third- and fourth-line guys are the grinding type, getting a lot of pucks in the neutral zone and that’s where we’re struggling right now. I really wouldn’t pay any mind to that.”

The Wolverines’ best players haven’t been their best players this season. Nor have their most-skilled opponents played like they typically do. But with the way the non-scorers have been lighting up the stat sheet against Michigan, the Wolverines either have the world’s worst luck, or the conference’s worst defense or goaltending.

The statistics would argue in favor of the latter.

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