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January 3, 2014
News & Views: U-M looks to rebound after GLI
On the heels of their 0-2 performance at the Great Lakes Invitational, the Wolverines have to ... wait. Michigan will not play again until Jan. 10-11 when it travels to Wisconsin, but U-M is using this time to shore up some weaknesses.
News: Michigan entered the GLI 10-2-2 and ranked third nationally, but lost 3-2 to Western Michigan and 3-0 to Michigan State - a pair of teams with losing records - and has subsequently dropped to No. 7 in the USCHO.com Top 20. Prior to the Dec. 27-28 showing, U-M had not lost back-to-back games all year.
Head coach Red Berenson: "That's the worst weekend we've had all season. We have to take that as face value. We know it was outdoor hockey, and that it was after being off for the better part of three weeks but it was the same conditions for everyone else.
"We didn't start off well, and didn't finish well. The strength of our team the first half of the season was our goaltending and our power play, and our power play let us down, and our penalty killing let us down, and we lost our scoring touch."
Views: The question many asked after the GLI was whether he tournament was a greater reflection of the Wolverines' second-half potential or if it was an aberration? Put me in the latter category.
The goaltending was solid, with Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine posting a combined .914 save percentage, and as long as those two continue to play well, Michigan will be in every game this season and has a chance to win the Big Ten.
But some of the other concerns popped up, and those have to be dealt with quickly.
U-M's defensive-zone coverage was poor. Too often the Wolverines left men open for point-blank chances, and that cannot continue.
Senior Mac Bennett has been playing at a high level, and freshmen Michael Downing and Nolan De Jong have also been very good this year, but a few veterans, like senior Kevin Clare and junior Brennan Serville, have to get it together. They've been average to below average, and Michigan cannot afford its upperclassmen to be playing at such a low level.
Offensively, the Maize and Blue have had trouble scoring all year, and in the absence of sophomore Andrew Copp - their leading goal scorer who was participating with Team USA at the World Junior Championships - it was imperative that some less-productive forwards step up.
"When you get in close games, and both these games were close games, you miss Copp on the power play, on the PK, and you miss his offensive contribution," Berenson said. "You miss his leadership a little bit. We've missed players before for this tournament and sometimes we were able to pick up the slack, and this time we weren't able to do that."
Berenson said that sophomore Boo Nieves and junior Alex Guptill actually played their best hockey of the season, but neither could hit the back of the net. And that's been a consistent refrain for the Wolverines this year - quality chances, but few goals.
Michigan needs Copp back, and he will be for the series with the Badgers, but they need other players to take some of the burden off of him. Guptill is a proven goal scorer, with 16 apiece in his first two seasons. Nieves and Di Giuseppe have tremendous skill. All of them need a slump buster, and that's maybe the real rub from the GLI - those two games could have been that for U-M.
Views: Berenson has not lost faith in this team's potential, believing Michigan should contend for a Big Ten title this year.
Berenson: "We didn't play the way we had been playing. We have to get back to that. I know I've used the GLI as a jumping off point for the second half of the season, when we've won, and now we'll try to use it as, 'These are the areas we have to get better at' and that's what we'll be doing before Wisconsin.
"We're going to be playing guilty the next two games because we know we let each other down at the GLI. I think that's going to be the focus here in the next 10 days, until we play Wisconsin. And then we'll have to take what we got out of that weekend to practice and get better at certain parts of the game. And then after that, we're playing every week.
"I think we can be a better team than we've shown. Even at our best, I think we can get better, and part of that is because we have young players, and part of it is because we have a sense of urgency from our senior class that I think will take hold.
"In a worst-case scenario, we've had goalkeeping that has proven that can win us a game when we need it to. That's something we didn't have a year ago. Everyone was too worried about the goalies to worry about themselves, but now we're focused on ourselves and that will be a good thing."
Views: Next weekend's game will reveal plenty about his team because going to Wisconsin to face a red-hot Badgers team - they have won six in a row going into action this weekend - provides an opportunity for the Wolverines to get back to what they did well in the first half of the season when they were gutting out victories. That's what it takes to win on the road and what it will take to best the Badgers and Golden Gophers for the Big Ten title.
There is no template for what it will take to win the league crown, but with 20 games, it might be a 15-win campaign. More than a certain number, though, U-M needs to beat Minnesota and Wisconsin. A 4-4 mark against those two probably doesn't win the Big Ten. A 5-3 record would put Michigan in good position.
News: Berenson and his players attended Wednesday's Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium. Berenson also played in the Alumni Game between former Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs Dec. 31.
Berenson: "Everyone has been looking forward to the NHL game at The Big House. I'm part of the hosting school, being the hockey coach, and I wanted everything to go well, and I think it did. The weather was a little rough but I stayed for the whole game. I sat outside. I know our players were there, and our families were there.
"It was terrific. I think the NHL will look at this being everything it was billed to be. That was the highlight of my weekend. Playing in the Alumni Game was fun. It was a social part getting to see a lot of players and being able to play the game."
Views: It's interesting that of all the outdoor games that have taken place since the first - the Cold War in 2001 between Michigan and Michigan State - the two most celebrated have both taken place in Ann Arbor.
First, the Big Chill at the Big House in 2010 between U-M and MSU set the standard for outdoor games between amateur (or non-NHL) teams, and now the 2014 Winter Classic is being heralded as the best yet, with a record 105,491 tickets sold and a 2.9 television rating that ranks as the top regular-season draw in NHL history (tying the 2009 Winter Classic, which featured Detroit and Chicago).
While Michigan is not expected to play an outdoor game next season, talk is growing that U-M will host another college game within the next few years, with Minnesota currently higher in the pecking order than another matchup with Michigan State.