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February 11, 2013

Three questions: U-M's potential to make a run exposed

That positive, chatty enthusiasm the Wolverines enjoyed a week ago after sweeping Michigan State Feb. 1-2? Gone. Reality has returned to Yost Ice Arena after a dreadful 0-2 weekend at Notre Dame that has stripped Michigan fans of any false hope they may have had.

Which is the real Michigan team: the one that swept Michigan State or was swept by Notre Dame?

Even the most ardent optimist couldn't argue for the one that swept the Spartans. No, an honest fan realizes they saw this coming because the simple truth is that across the board the Wolverines just aren't a good team.

Their defense was exposed over the weekend in surrendering 13 goals to an Irish team averaging just 2.38 markers in its previous eight contests, and whatever promise freshman goalie Jared Rutledge showed against MSU disappeared completely.

Give the Maize and Blue credit for at least persevering some - they could have suffered worse than a 6-4 loss Saturday after it became apparent they didn't possess the goalie play to have any chance of slowing down the Blue and Gold -- but at no point during the two-game series did they double up their defensive efforts.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered with the way Rutledge was playing, but there is an ugly dynamic between U-M's defense and its goaltending in which neither can bail out the other and thus both just continue to crumble.

Is the Jared Rutledge experiment over with for good?

In besting Michigan State 3-2 and 5-2, Rutledge allowed just 2.00 goals against per contest and turned aside 92.2 percent of the shots he faced. There was some fleeting hope that he could parlay that performance into a winning streak, regaining the confidence he lost early in the season, and showing the poise and competitiveness to begin realizing the potential that made him Michigan's scholarship netminder.

But Rutledge allowed 11 of ND's 13 goals, recording a save percentage of just .804 as he looked overwhelmed and incapable of ever backstopping the Maize and Blue to the standard of excellence this program has created over the past 25 years. And frankly, there have been too many games like this, too many really bad goals given up, and a lack of awareness and feistiness on the ice to believe that Rutledge will rebound to salvage a career already teetering on the brink.

Michigan has set up shop overseas, looking for goalies in Europe (specifically Sweden) for next season, and as it stands today, landing a new, better, goalie is U-M's only hope for next year because it is clear Rutledge isn't the answer. Nor is freshman classmate Steve Racine or junior Adam Janecyk.

Without fresh blood, one bad year has the potential to become two bad years or worse, closing out Red Berenson's Hall of Fame career (he has three years left on his contract before he anticipates retiring) on a sour note.

What's next for the Wolverines?

Michigan has a bye weekend but that probably won't help them. Every loss, more inexplicable than the last, only furthers the nail in the coffin for the Maize and Blue. Technically, they have at least six games remaining - four regular-season contests and two playoff games - but expecting U-M to go on a run is folly.

That said, these athletes care and have pride and won't go down without swinging.


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