Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
October 29, 2013The Michigan hockey team is 4-1-1 after its first six games following a 2-1 win over Boston U. and a 2-1 loss to UMass-Lowell over the weekend. On Monday, head coach Red Berenson spoke to TheWolverine.com about his team's play.
News: Michigan ranks sixth nationally allowing 1.83 goals per game and has held five of six opponents to two goals or fewer this season. Goalies Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort have also combined for a .939 save percentage.
Berenson: "Our defense is right now is our exceptional goalkeeping. I think we're giving up too many scoring chances and too many shots. Opponents are averaging over 25 shots per game in our home games, and about 32 shots against in all of our games. It's too many shots to expect to keep our goals against down.
"The stats look good and you could say we're happy - our goalie is playing well and we are happy about that - but our team has to play better.
"I don't know if it's loose, but there's attention to detail that our whole team can put a little more emphasis on, doing things with the puck and without the puck. On the flipside, we're getting away with mediocre offense because we're getting really good goalkeeping."
Views: Teams are, in fact, averaging 30.2 shots per game against the Wolverines and that's far too many for Berenson's liking. Had this been last season, when U-M's goalies struggled, the Maize and Blue would likely be surrendering four or five goals per game right now.
Some of Michigan's defenders, like senior Mac Bennett and freshman Nolan De Jong, have played well, but too many are not as decisive with the puck down low as they need to be, and this has led to bad turnovers deep in U-M territory.
The forwards aren't without some blame too, as Berenson noted they're losing too many faceoffs in their own zone while backchecking is only effective if the forwards man up on an opponent. He believes too many opposing centers and wingers are skating into the Michigan zone without someone shadowing them.
The Wolverines need to tighten up in all facets of their defensive game in unburdening their young goalies. Berenson would like to see Michigan hold teams to 20-25 shots, max.
News: Michigan's offenses sits 29th nationally in averaging only 2.83 goals per game despite taking 32.5 shots per game. U-M scored seven goals against RIT so in their other five games, the Wolverines have netted just 12 markers or 2.40 per game.
Berenson: "We're still not there yet. We're working on getting better, trying to get more confidence with the puck. We get 80 shots this weekend, and we score three goals, and we get one good goal, one penalty shot and one fluke.
"Part of it is shooting to score, shooting smart, and part of it is being patient and knowing what your best play is. Then part of it is paying the price to score. Part of that is getting in front of their goalie and taking a little bit of the stick or getting hit by the puck and taking that risk.
"If the goalie is one of the stars of the game against us every night that means we're playing well enough to get shots but we're not paying the price to score."
Views: Former Wolverine Noah Ruden mentioned earlier this week during a taping of the former player roundtable that there is a big difference between putting shots on the net and shooting with the intent of hitting the back of the net. So far, we've seen the Wolverines do the former and not the latter.
Some of that makes sense - hockey is a funny game in which many goals come off rebounds or odd-looking shots - but when U-M's skill players have some open ice, they need to pick their spots.
For instance, in Friday's win over Boston University, sophomore center Boo Nieves had a few outstanding chances out front but shot the puck into the goalie's chest, not aiming for a corner even though he's good enough to make that shot.
The good news is that Michigan is keeping its own goals against down, allowing U-M to stay in every game, and lessening the burden the forwards carry to score, but the Maize and Blue need a breakout game offensively, to lift the fog of an entire team slump. There are too many good offensive players for this to remain a problem all year but the longer the drought goes, the more it builds upon itself.
News: Sophomore goalie Steve Racine returned to practice Monday after missing three games with a groin injury. He remains questionable to play this weekend against Michigan Tech, however. Racine is eager to return, though, with freshman Zach Nagelvoort all of a sudden posing a very real threat, posting a 1.47 goals against average and a .947 save percentage in four games.
Berenson: "Steve will want to come back as soon as he feels 100 percent but we'll see when we get there.
"I feel much better about our goalkeeping situation. Steve got off to a good start, and good for him, but now we have a little more depth in goal.
"When he's healthy, we'll figure it out but we have to do what is best for our team, and neither one of them has had a full season here of undisputed success. We're looking for that goalie and we may have two of them or we may have none. I like the way Steve has started but I like the way Zach has started too."
Views: My informed opinion is this: when Racine returns, he will be given the chance to start, and he won't be yanked after one bad goal or even if he has a bad game. He has the experience from last-season's playoff push and that experience is invaluable.
However, Nagelvoort has proven he deserves some playing time and he'll likely get it. Not every other night or maybe not every third game, but spot starts to keep him fresh and ready in case U-M has to call on him again.
If Racine struggles, or the injury continues to bother him, Nagelvoort takes over. If he plays well, and Michigan wins, the point is moot and there is no goalie controversy at all.
What Berenson has to guard against, though, is fracturing the confidence of his two netminders. Right now, he has two kids playing well and believing in themselves. And by giving Racine his job back, and letting his play dictate his starts, and by giving Nagelvoort a game here and there, he provides both of them the best opportunity to maintain that confidence.
News: Freshmen J.T. Comphere (five points) and Tyler Motte (four points) rank among the top four point producers for the Maize and Blue. Motte has a team-high four goals, including a game-winner and a game-tying goal. Motte also has a plus/minus of +3 and Compher is +2.
Berenson: "They're pretty impressive as complete players. Usually your freshmen come in with good stats and good numbers, and they can make an impact on our team, but without the puck, they're usually challenged. Now these guys will have some tough moments but they're more ready for Division I hockey at both ends of the ice than most of the freshmen we've had."
Views: I've covered the team for 11 years now, and I've seen some incredible freshmen - Jeff Tambellini, T.J. Hensick, Andrew Cogliano, Jack Johnson, Max Pacioretty, etc. - and in all my time I have never seen two freshmen that played as well on both ends of the rink as these two kids.
I'm aware of how high of praise that is, and the chance it's seen as hyperbole, but while all those players I just mentioned did something rather spectacular, it was often on one end of the ice (and for those five, it was offense). Pacioretty was a pretty good defensive player in his rookie year but he also benefited from playing alongside seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik.
Compher and Motte are playing on an all-freshman line, and are more well-rounded than freshmen are supposed to be. They both do the little things exceptionally well, and then when they're in the offensive zone, they understand how to create legitimate scoring opportunities for themselves and for teammates.
Berenson is right, there will be a few ups and downs for both kids, but their hockey IQs are too high, their skating too good, and their commitment to defense too strong for any slump to greatly impact their potential to contribute night after night.