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January 31, 2013
Rivals Michigan and MSU in unfamiliar territory
Michigan and Michigan State have combined for 18 CCHA regular-season titles in 31 years in the conference, yet when the rivals meet this weekend in the final season of CCHA play, they will determine who resides in dead last with a month to play.
"It's the only time I can ever remember where these two teams are where they are," said head coach Red Berenson. "Usually one is up and the other one is a little bit behind, and it could be either one near the top.
"It's ironic that here we are in the last year of the conference and everyone wants to win, and the two schools that have been the mainstays in this league are at the bottom of the standings. That doesn't meant we'll stay there, but that's where we are right now."
In 31 years, Michigan has never finished last, and has only once finished second-to-last (eighth out of nine teams in 1986). Michigan State has never finished last either, experiencing its worst performances when it placed 10th out of 11 teams in 2011 and 10th out of 12 teams in 2009.
However, the Spartans are in the basement today, going just 5-12-1 in conference action to sit 11th with 16 points. Michigan, 5-13-2, is tied for ninth place with Bowling Green with 19 points, and realistically has no shot to secure a first-round playoff bye - the Wolverines would need to go at least 5-3 in their final eight contests and see their CCHA competitors not win again.
At this point, earning a home playoff first-round series is more doable; the Maize and Blue are just one point shy of eighth-place Northern Michigan, and, sadly, that should be singular goal for this team.
"I've been on both sides of it in the playoffs, and anytime you're playing at home it's definitely an advantage," senior center A.J. Treais said.
"You'd like to play at home, but to play at home you have to earn it," Berenson said. "We have eight games left and we have to do something, and then we'll worry about the standings. But if we don't get better results than we've had in the last eight games (1-7-0), then we're going to play on the road, and we'll deserve to."
With back-to-back road trips against Notre Dame (Feb. 8-9) and Ohio State (Feb. 22-23), Michigan must seize some positive momentum this weekend when it has the chance. The Wolverines have consistently shown they lack confidence, and when the going gets tough, they struggle, losing each of their past two Saturday-night games (4-1 and 5-1) following a hard-fought one-goal loss on Friday.
"Confidence-wise, we're a lot more fragile now than we were early in the season," Berenson said. "We need a life. Our team needs to get that goal, because when the other team gets it, you can feel the life drift out of your team.
"When you're a team like ours, you have to make your own breaks, and right now, our team is fragile. No question. We can talk all we want about what we need to do better - and we're trying - but you need to start doing things and then you get some confidence."
The puck drops tomorrow at 6:35 p.m. (an hour earlier than normal) and can be seen on Big Ten Network. Saturday's 4:05 p.m. tilt at Joe Louis Arena can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit.