Michigan's Youngsters Step Up
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
Michigan is trying to get back to the NCAA tournament after last year's absence, its first in 23 years. To do so, it knows it will have to win tough games, like those played against New Hampshire this past weekend.
Michigan got a tie on Friday, and then gutted out a win in overtime on Saturday, making it feel good about its season going forward.
"This weekend was a good gut check for our team," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "After (Friday) night's disappointment we had to bounce back and I thought our team did well. UNH is great team that will have a great season."
Michigan is young and inexperienced; everyone knew there would be growing pains, especially on defense. But the progress of the group, which includes NHL Draft picks Nolan De Jong and Michael Downing, was especially encouraging.
"Defensively, we will get better," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "We have three freshmen on defense and two seniors but I think we will continue to get better. Part of your defense is your goalie and another part is your forwards"
Michigan captain Mac Bennett said, "We have three young defensemen playing for us. They have just continued to get better and better. That is only going to continue throughout the season."
On Friday night, they were heavily outplayed, outshot, out-chanced and even lost its starting goaltender early in the third period, Steve Racine, a period it was outshot 14-2. But Michigan fought through it and was able to manage a tie. It could have easily been a different result.
"You saw us struggle defensively," said Berenson. "But we still only gave up one goal — that was goalkeeping. (Saturday) it was a much better team effort for us."
Saturday's game proved what Michigan could be, especially to itself.
"It is good to see the improvement night over night like this weekend," Bennett said. "With any team you want to see improvement over the course of the season.
Freshman Tyler Motte scored the overtime game winner Saturday, his third goal of the season, giving the Wolverines a taste of what they may have with the youngster — a sniper they've lacked in recent seasons.
"I thought we regrouped well," said Motte, a fourth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks.
While UNH had chances and scored one more goal than on Friday night — the second being a garbage goal that caromed off the goalie's skate and into the net — the Michigan defense stifled a UNH offense that spent the previous night buzzing around its goaltenders.
"It is definitely a confidence booster when everyone in the locker room felt we were taking it to them," said Bennett. "We definitely wanted to bounce back and we feel like we did that."
Progress from game to game is what Berenson asks for from his team. But if Michigan has anything to take from the weekend, and the last few games, it's the obvious talent level it has.
When the game was on the line in overtime, Berenson was able to turn to some freshmen to get the job done. The guy who made the play happen and the guy who ultimately scored the goal were both freshmen. Both looked as cool as a cucumber in making the play happen.
"They are doing a good job for us," said Berenson, speaking of his young forwards. "We knew they would and we thought they would. Saturday was the first time we put all three freshmen on the same line (Motte, J.T. Compher, Evan Allen). We put Allen on that line and they played really well for us."
Said Motte, "My linemates and myself had some experience in these situations last year with the USNTDP. Just working with each other, playing with each other, we are comfortable. In environments like this on the road you kind of feed off the energy."
With many pieces coming together for the Wolverines and a few lessons early in the season, it looks poised to return to the tournament. Time will tell if that is true.