Michigan Tries to Recapture Its Game
Wolverines Endure Rough Stretch After Good Start
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
Throughout the course of a long season, some teams welcome a few weeks off. The Michigan Wolverines are not one of those teams.
Michigan started the season 10-2-1 and played nearly every weekend in October and November. But the Wolverines have only played four games since Dec. 11 — and they lost all of them.
“It’s tough to go through all these breaks, especially when school is out,” sophomore forward Andrew Copp said. ”You kind of get out of your routine and just lay around all day.”
After a tie against Ferris State at home, the Wolverines had 16 days off before the Great Lakes Invitational, where they lost to both Western Michigan and Michigan State outdoors at Comerica Park in Detroit. Then, after a 13-day break, Michigan headed to Madison and dropped two games to Wisconsin. They were also off last weekend.
“We’ve had enough of these weeks off,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
Michigan lost two key players to the NHL last season — defensemen Jacob Trouba and Jon Merrill. But that was tough to notice in the first half, as some talented underclassmen lifted the Wolverines over tough competition. Michigan knocked off Boston College, New Hampshire and Boston University over the first three weeks of the season thanks to players like Copp (10 goals, 6 assists) and freshman JT Compher (6 goals, 9 assists).
But on October 18 at New Hampshire, sophomore goaltender Steve Racine — whose strong play carried the Wolverines through the second half last year — went down with an injury. Freshman Zach Nagelvoort only expected to play the role of backup this season. But he found himself in net in a tie game.
“Nagelvoort had to come in and we didn’t know what to expect,” Berenson said.
He stopped all 15 shots he faced in the third period to maintain the tie. Nagelvoort has since played 13 games, sharing the starts with Racine while posting a 2.06 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
Both goaltenders have provided a solid backstop for the Wolverines this season.
“We have confidence in both Zach and Steve,” Copp said. “It allows us to take a little more chances and be a bit more offensive when you know you’ve got two goaltenders like that on your back end.”
Copp said it takes a little pressure off the offense, “but we still know we need to score goals, and that’s definitely a part of our game that we need to improve.”
In Michigan’s four straight losses, the Wolverines have only scored five goals, including a shutout loss to Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational consolation game. At Wisconsin, they certainly had their chances, but the Wolverines couldn’t quite corral and bury those loose pucks. Meanwhile, the Badgers enjoyed a few nice bounces that resulted in goals.
Copp said the Wolverines just need to stay the course and the bounces will eventually go their way.
“The pucks are going to start going in at some point,” he said. “But we have to do everything we can to start to bury them.”
Michigan will finally get another chance to bury those pucks Thursday night when they face Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Berenson said he wants to see his team get back to what made them successful during the first half of the season — special teams and defense.
“Our special teams need to be solid, and we need to capitalize on our chances,” Berenson said. “And we need to be really stingy defensively. Michigan State can be a tough team if they get the lead.”
And after a second game against Michigan State this weekend, Michigan will welcome the Badgers to Yost Ice Arena, as the Big Ten slate finally ramps up for the Wolverines. Playing against only five other teams in the Big Ten — and playing them frequently — can be a benefit, Nagelvoort said.
“The coolest thing about playing in the Big Ten is that we’re only playing against a select few teams for the rest of the season. Every single game is that much more exciting,” Nagelvoort said.
The last matchup with the Badgers certainly saw some excitement, as a brawl at the end of the game resulted in six — yes, six — skaters in Michigan’s penalty box.
“What that shows you is that you had two very passionate teams on the ice,” Nagelvoort said. “The guys are going to remember what happened there at the end of the game. It’s going to fire some guys up and it’s going to be a fun series when they come back here to Ann Arbor.“
After hosting Wisconsin, the Wolverines head to Pegula Ice Arena the following week to square off with Penn State. So the lengthy time off is in Michigan’s rearview mirror, and they now have plenty of chances to climb out of this four-game losing streak — something Nagelvoort welcomes.
“I’ve been itching to play hockey,” he said.