November 23, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Friday Night Plights

Michigan Looks for Weekend Consistency

by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer

OXFORD, Ohio — Flash back to April 10, 2008, last year's Frozen Four national semifinal between Michigan and Notre Dame.

Wolverines junior goaltender Billy Sauer, who had earned a stellar 30-4-3 record until that night, had allowed three first period goals, and Michigan trailed as a result. Longtime coach Red Berenson walked into the locker room and looked over at then-freshman goaltender Bryan Hogan, who had only played in five games all year.

"He just came in and said 'Get ready,'" Hogan said afterwards. "So I just got ready, and that's about it."

Well, nowadays, Hogan sees plenty of time between the pipes, splitting ice time with Sauer, now a senior. Hogan usually starts every Saturday night, following a Sauer start on Fridays, and each netminder has started seven games this season.

But a strange and disconcerting pattern has emerged for the Wolverines, and it's difficult for anyone to say whether Hogan has truly been playing better than Sauer — whose confidence may have been broken by the Frozen Four incident — or if Michigan is simply failing to show up to play on Friday nights.

With Sauer starting in goal, Michigan is 2-5-0 — meaning Sauer has already surpassed his loss total from a year ago. Hogan, however, is 6-1-0, with his lone loss coming at a raucous Goggin Ice Center at Miami on Saturday night — a loss in which he made 32 saves on 34 shots in an often-dazzling performance.

Still, Miami swept the weekend series by scores of 2-0 (over Sauer) and 2-1 (over Hogan) to extend its growing lead in the CCHA standings.

And while Berenson was left looking for answers — calling his team's performance this season "sporadic" — it seemed clear that he was less pleased with Sauer's performance on Friday than Hogan's on Saturday.

"I can tell you that Billy gave us a chance last night, but I didn't particularly like the goals [he allowed]," said the veteran coach. "I thought they were stoppable goals. On the other hand, we didn't give him anything. And tonight, Hogan gave us a chance."

Asked to elaborate on his team's strangely contrasting Friday/Saturday records, a frustrated Berenson simply replied, "We've talked about that for the last month, so I'd just be repeating myself."

Hogan has a 2.19 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage — certainly better-looking numbers than Sauer's (2.72, .898). But indeed, Berenson has noted for weeks that his team as a whole has seemed lethargic on Friday nights, while energetic on Saturday nights.

He did, however, indicate his opinion that Saturday's effort against Miami, which included many flurries of offensive action and several near-misses, was considerably better than the previous night.

Said Berenson, "I thought we had a better effort. We played with more intensity. There was more flow. I can't tell you if we were stronger, or fresher, or more motivated, or what it was, but I know our team wanted to bounce back. And they gave us everything they had."

But then there's Sauer — a highly frustrated goaltender who in addition to experiencing many more losses this season has also not enjoyed anywhere near the same goal support that Hogan has received. The Wolverines have scored 32 goals for Hogan, but just 12 for Sauer — and each goaltender has played roughly the same amount of minutes.

Sauer's frustration was evident heading into the weekend's series with Miami, as he told the Michigan Daily, "When you lose Friday night, the team has a chance to redeem themselves Saturday night, but I have to wait to the next week."

It remains to be seen how long the goaltender rotation will continue — or whether Berenson will see if his squad just plays better in front of Hogan by having him start a Friday night game. Next Friday night, the Wolverines play at Minnesota, before playing at Wisconsin the following night.

For now, though, perhaps the Wolverines can take note of the positive aspects of Saturday's game at Miami and build from there.

"There were some good parts to the game, definitely, " said Berenson. "When you lose, sometimes everything seems bleak, but I thought our penalty killers did a great job, 5-on-3 for a couple minutes, and then with the five minute major [assessed to Matt Rust]. We got the goalkeeping, we got the penalty killing, and we got the only power play goal. So some good things happened in the game.

"Any time you face some adversity, that should bring out the best in your team. So we need to refocus and regroup, and challenge ourselves."

Of course, Berenson hopes that things turn around as quickly as possible, as the Wolverines will host Miami in a weekend series rematch in just over a month at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.

"I can't tell you there's a dramatic improvement from a month ago until now," said Berenson. "Hopefully I'll have a different answer next month."

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