After being swept for two straight weeks, at the hands of No. 1 Miami (Ohio) and No. 6 Michigan State, the Michigan hockey program is in unfamiliar territory.
For the first time in 23 years, the Wolverines have a below-.500 record through the season’s first ten games. Their current four-game skid is the longest since the 2005-06 season. And Michigan’s current No. 16 rank is its lowest since the turn of the century.
If the Wolverines don’t perform well in a home-and-home series against Bowling Green this weekend, they could lose their ranking altogether. Michigan has tallied just four goals in as many games, and has converted on just three of their last 49 power plays. With an anemic offense, two wins is far from a foregone conclusion.
Michigan coach Red Berenson realizes the offensive woes are obvious, but he also knows from experience that all it takes is a game-changing shift to motivate his team.
“Sure, there’s going to be a lack of confidence,” Berenson said. “The night I scored six goals 40 years ago, the first thing I said to myself after the first goal went in was, ‘Thank God I can still score.’ ”
After practice Tuesday, Berenson announced that the players voted junior Carl Hagelin and sophomore Luke Glendening as alternate captains, with six other players receiving at least one vote. This new source of leadership could deepen the team’s chemistry and provide a spark to reverse the team’s woes.
“If you look at Carl, it’s pretty easy to see he’s our hardest working player every day in practice — on the ice and off the ice,” Berenson said. “He’s very studious, and very serious about school, about hockey, about everything. So he’s a very easy player to look up to if you’re a young player.
“A player like Luke, he’s a kid that has earned everything he has got at Michigan. He didn’t come here on a scholarship and he didn’t come here with a lot of talk about his draft status. …When he got here, he showed every day in practice that he was going to help this team any way he could.”
Berenson also has rearranged the offense again this week, which he hopes will also change the Wolverine’s fortunes. The previous lines were together for the past six games. Michigan scored 11 goals in the first two games at Lake Superior State, but the struggles against Miami and Michigan State were clear.
On the first line, center Matt Rust is reunited with Hagelin and freshman Chris Brown. The trio had been together from the start of the season until the loss to then-No. 3 Boston University on Oct. 24.
However, the biggest transformation is the new combination of junior center Louie Caporusso, sophomore David Wohlberg and freshman A.J. Treais. All three players were on different lines last weekend against the Spartans.
“I put Treais with Caporusso because A.J. is really good with the puck and I think he can make plays to Louie,” Berenson said. “Wohlberg and Caporusso had a good history last year, but they both got off to slow starts this year. Now we’re putting them back together and hopefully they’re ready to take off.”
Since the line changes last month didn’t have any long-term effects on Michigan’s success last time, there’s no guarantee they will this time. And there’s no guarantee the new captains will pay dividends, either.
But as far as the Wolverines are concerned, it’s about getting back to basics. Overthinking and making too many alterations could backfire and make it more difficult to snap out of the cold spell.
“When you’re losing, you tend to pull out the magnifying glass and you tend to pick on a lot of problems on the team,” Caporusso said. “Really, there’s a fine line between winning and losing, and … we’re not far off.”