Coming off a bye week, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson expects his team to be more ready as it enters the penultimate weekend of the season’s first half.

But before No. 7 Western Michigan stands in the way of the Wolverines, losers of five of their last seven, exams do.

Berenson noted that it will be a “relief” for the team to focus exclusively on the weekend set in front of it as most exams will be finished by Friday.

“It’s pressure off the ice, as well as the pressure on the ice,” Berenson said. “When everyone’s done their exams, they just seem to be a little more loose and a little more ready to focus on hockey.”

Playing on an exam day is something Berenson had to deal with as a student at the University as well.

“I remember writing a calculus exam and a chemistry exam the same day of a game,” Berenson said. “That’s something you have to do. It’s difficult for our guys. I don’t know their exam schedules but their exams are kicking in and we’ll have exams right up to our game.

The Broncos are playing as well as any team in the CCHA right now, and they are coming off a sweep of a Ferris State team that won the weekend against the Wolverines earlier this month. Western Michigan is closing in on CCHA leader Notre Dame and is just two points behind Miami (Ohio) for second place.

The Wolverines have sole possession of eighth place, 14 points behind the Fighting Irish. But this weekend presents the opportunity for them to gain ground on one of the league’s top teams.

“(Western Michigan) isn’t a surprise anymore,” Berenson said. “They’re definitely for real. … I know they’re going to be good, so this is about us taking a step from where we were two weeks ago. We’re a work in progress. It’s a process, and we have a lot of things to get better at.”

Once Michigan is finally able to focus solely on hockey, it will benefit from the return of sophomore forward Alex Guptill, who was benched against Ferris State despite being the team’s second-leading scorer entering the series against the Bulldogs.

“He’s figured it out,” Berenson said. “He knows what the expectations are. Sometimes you have to take serious actions just to get a kid to understand what you’re talking about. If he’s not listening, then he’s watching the games.”

Saturday morning, the Wolverines held an intra-squad scrimmage. But according to Berenson, the team’s sub-par goaltending didn’t improve, even against its own team.

“I don’t think anybody really helped themselves Saturday morning,” Berenson said. “But (freshman goaltender Steve) Racine — we need to get him healthy and ready for the weekend, and then we’ll see about a backup.”

NOTE: Junior defenseman Kevin Clare was kept out of practice again Monday with an undisclosed injury. Berenson says he will continue to be evaluated throughout the week before a decision is made on his status for the weekend.

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