EAST LANSING – Do a bunch of college kids yelling obscenities in Maize shirts really affect the Michigan hockey team?
Because, for the third time in 2003, the Wolverines have won on Friday at home, only to lose to the same team on Saturday in their opponent’s building.
“We have to play better on the road,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We have to take a hard look at ourselves and how we play on the road, and do something about it.”
Following Saturday night’s loss at Munn Ice Arena against Michigan State, Michigan has now lost five of its last six games in an opposing school’s building. Except for a non-conference win at Minnesota Thanksgiving weekend, the Wolverines have had completely different results away from Yost. Michigan is now just 2-5-1 on the road in league games this season, with its two wins coming against league doormats Bowling Green and Lake Superior State.
While every team has an advantage at home, how can the eighth-ranked Wolverines garner such different results on the road?
“You could make of study of that,” Berenson said. “I can’t give you the answer of that, but I can tell you that there has ever been a team in the history of hockey that has had a better record on the road than they have at home.”
But the Wolverines are going to have to find an answer if they are going defend their CCHA regular season title. Michigan plays five of its final six games away from Yost. Next weekend the Wolverines will take on Nebraska-Omaha at the Omaha Civic Auditorium, which always sells out and is the most underrated atmosphere in the CCHA. Then, after another series with Michigan State at Yost and Joe Louis Arena, the Wolverines will head down to Columbus to play two against Ohio State in Value City Arena, where there will likely be over 10,000 Michigan haters in attendance.
To be successful in those venues, Michigan will need to avoid big deficits. In its last two road games, Michigan’s opponent has come out and blitzed the Wolverines early. After a lackluster first period on Saturday night, Spartans forward John-Michael Liles scored twice in the first four minutes of the second period to get the Munn Ice Arena crowd going. While the Wolverines got within one, the deficit became too much to overcome. A similar situation occurred two weeks ago when the Wolverines traveled to Big Rapids to take on Ferris State. In that game, the Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals in the first period. Again, the Wolverines came back, but they were unable to get the equalizer.
“When you get down a couple goals and their building gets into it, it’s tough,” Michigan forward Jeff Tambellini said. “We really got to make sure that we’re ready for the next six games, and we can’t be wasting anything in the first period.”
While the atmosphere at Munn was nothing like Yost on Friday night – it featured the most NBA-like feeling the Wolverines have played in this year with electronic scoreboards repeatedly trying to pump up the crowd and even a inflatable blimp – it was the loudest it has been all season, and it got real loud when the Spartans had the momentum.
“The crowd was a huge factor,” Michigan State forward Jim Slater said. “I thought it was the loudest I’ve heard since I’ve been here.”
However, the Wolverines won’t be winning many games down the stretch if they cannot deal with the hostility.
“Maybe it’s a little tougher to play on the road,” Berenson said. “But we have to play better than this.”