March 19, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Michigan Playing on the Edge

Wolverines Have A Lot at Stake Against Penn State

by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer

For Michigan, the Big Ten Tournament could mean one and done for the team’s season.

Several teams — Minnesota, Union, Boston College, Ferris State, Wisconsin, Quinnipiac, Massachusetts-Lowell and Notre Dame will all make the NCAA tournament regardless of how they fare in their conference tournaments.

That means if the highest seeds in each conference win their tournaments, Michigan would still make the NCAAs even with a loss to Penn State. But, if the lower seeds advance and win their conference tournaments, Michigan would miss the NCAA Tournament by one spot.

Even with the heightened emphasis on Thursday’s game because of the tournament format, Berenson said there isn’t one aspect teams can focus on in single-elimination games.

“You really have to pay attention to details,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But it’s not like you can reinvent your team this time of year or put them in a different mindset when you play one team as against another.”

The Wolverines sit 11th in the PairWise and have a very slim chance of making the NCAA tournament if they fall to Penn State on Thursday.

“The one thing about hockey is anybody can win a one-game series and typically the better team will win in a best of three,” Berenson said.

The Nittany Lions have played well against the Wolverines this season, splitting the season series. Penn State won its first Big Ten game with a 7-3 win at State College before a 5-4 overtime win at Yost.

“We know that Pen State can beat anyone on a given night and have nothing to lose,” Berenson said. “We have a lot of respect for them for the way they played against us in all four games.”

Michigan has nine players who’ve played in at least 10 playoff games, and senior captain Mac Bennett has appeared in the most, with 19 postseason appearances. Bennett returned from an injury last weekend after missing four games. He has three points against Penn State.

“He’s our captain, he’s our leader in the locker room as well as on the ice,” Berenson said. “I think he made a big difference to our team coming back this weekend against a great Minnesota team.”

Michigan ended a season filled with inconsistency with a couple of well-played games, and a 6-2 win, against the Gophers.

“It forced our team to play at even a harder level, a higher level than we’ve played,” Berenson said. “We’re healthy and I can’t tell you that anything is going really well or really poorly, I just think we’re ready to play.”

Both Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort have played against Penn State. Nagelvoort is 1-2-0 in three games with a .876 save percentage, while Racine is 1-0-0 with a .941 save percentage.

Nagelvoort took over Michigan’s net once Racine went down with an injury, but Racine started six of the last 10 games. Nagelvoort started both games against Minnesota, and Berenson said he will most likely start on Thursday.

“They both had their ups and downs but they put came off pretty good games and winning games recently,” Berenson said. “We’re confident that we can play either one of them going forward. I like where we are, we’re not just kind of on one goalie.”

Michigan’s JT Compher is the highest-scoring freshman in the Big Ten, and leads all Wolverines with 31 points.

“His passion and work ethic has separated him from some of the other high-skilled players of his age,” Berenson said. He just outworks them and then he’s got some skill as well.”

Seven different Wolverines have notched at least 20 points this season. While Zach Hyman isn’t one of them, he has 14 points in his last 14 contests. Hyman also has a team-high six points against Penn State.

“I like where we are offensively, but let’s face it. These games tend to be low scoring games and tight games,” Berenson said.

“That’s really what hockey comes down to, is you play hard to get a scoring chance and then you try and capitalize on it. In the mean time we’ve got to play rock-solid defensively because goals are going to be precious.”

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