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November 14, 2012

Michigan still learning how to play well back-to-back

Last week, hockey coach Red Berenson chastised his team for its practice habits and intensity, and the Wolverines responded with arguably their best game of the season in beating Michigan State 5-1. But after a 7-2 loss the following night, he has another lesson to teach.

"I think they took their opponent for granted," Berenson said. "That's our job as coaches, the seniors' job and the leaders' job to keep that talk where it should be and none of us did it.

"You don't win by relaxing after the first game and thinking it will be easy the next night. That's human nature. Everyone is telling you how good you are and how bad the other team is. Well guess what's going to happen the next night? Just what happened."

Michigan has frustrated itself and its fans this season with inconsistent play, looking dominant one night and uninterested the next. Berenson was hopeful that meeting rival MSU for a home-and-home series last weekend would snap his team into shape, and it appeared to work, with the Maize and Blue taking the fight to the Spartans in their 5-1 win.

However, the Wolverines surrendered a breakaway goal just 34 seconds into Saturday's contest in East Lansing, trailed 3-0 6:59 into the game and 4-1 after one period of play. Hyde definitely made an ugly appearance.

"I think on Saturday morning we were really happy with how we played Friday, and that mindset has to change," senior defenseman Lee Moffie said. "We need to put it behind us and move on. We need to have a 'We're not as good as we think we are mentality.'"

U-M is just 4-4-1 after nine games. Michigan is 4-2 at home but 0-2-1 on the road. In theory, the good news is that the Maize and Blue get Notre Dame for two at home this weekend, beginning with a Thursday night affair and wrapping up Friday. However, the Wolverines are 1-3-1 in their last five, surrendering 20 goals.

"How are you going to win when you're giving up four goals per game?" Berenson asked, rhetorically.

"We have to get better in all parts of the defensive game. Whether it is penalty killing, backchecking, D-zone coverage, goalkeeping ... we're always trying to be a good offensive team and we've recruited good offensive players but part of our defensive problems are our lack of offensive forechecking or taking a team out of a game when we should and can, and missing our chances.

"The other part is everyone buying in to playing better defensively. We have guys too worried about scoring goals or getting points. We measure them about how they're playing without the puck. If you're not scoring, and you're a minus player, you won't stay in the lineup."

Berenson quickly dismissed talk that his freshman goaltenders are the problem. They haven't been consistent this year, but if U-M was playing this poorly in front of Shawn Hunwick a year ago, he would have given up more than three goals per game too.

"It's everyone playing defense; it's a six-man job in there, not a one-man job," said Moffie.

In the Irish, Michigan faces a team 6-3-0 overall and third in the CCHA with nine points. The Blue and Gold have a formidable defense, allowing just 1.78 goals per game, but a pedestrian offense (2.67 goals per contest). This would be a good time for the Maize and Blue to get on track.

"Notre Dame is going to be the best team we've played so far so we have to refocus," senior captain A.J. Treais said. "We're upset about our record but everyone should be focused on Thursday night."

Michigan is 3-1-1 on the first night of a series this season, and coming off a disastrous loss, the Wolverines will be motivated to win Thursday. The key is if that happens, can they learn from their past mistakes, stay more even-keeled and deliver in the finale?

"If you're going to sweep a team you need to play better than you did Friday because they're going to play better," Berenson said.

Regardless of what happens, it's still early. Michigan went 1-6-1 in November a year ago and still earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament while U-M was 3-5-0 in November and made the 2010 posteason. However, the Wolverines do not want to continue testing fate.

"We know that when this team is clicking, the talent and the speed is there," Moffie said. "I'd rather have this happen early in the year then at the end. We're just trying to stay positive because we know how good this team can be."

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