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December 4, 2013

News & Views: Michigan to host Team USA

After finishing off Ohio State 5-4 Monday for a series sweep of the Buckeyes, Michigan has a relatively easy week on tap. The Wolverines host the U.S. Under-18 team Thursday (7pm, Fox Sports Detroit) and won't play again until Dec. 11 when they host Ferris State.

News: Michigan blew a pair of third-period leads against OSU in both Friday's 4-3 overtime win and the 5-4 Monday night thriller. In the opening game, U-M led 3-2 when the Scarlet and Gray tied it up at 16:47 of the third. Earlier this week, the Maize and Blue held a 4-1 lead but Ohio State scored three times in a little less than four minutes, including a pair of power-play goals, to tie the score.

Head coach Red Berenson: "We didn't like the way we played Monday. We played well until we scored the fourth goal and sure enough a penalty against and a power play against, and the wheels started to turn, and then another penalty and a 4-on-3 goal. Too much happened in that four-minute span but that happens in college hockey. It happens in Ohio a lot, but we have to learn how to handle that.

"We're not that young. We need to learn how to put teams away, and we need to learn how to be a stronger team in the third period, and I don't think we've shown that yet."

Views: Here's the good news - Michigan won both games, and championship-caliber teams find a way to pull out close contests and overcome adversity. The Maize and Blue are proving they can do that, securing three overtime wins this season and one comeback victory among their 10 triumphs.

In each of the last four games, Michigan has held a third-period lead only to lose it. U-M found a way to win the last three.

"The confidence is in there that we're going to find a way to win," Berenson said. "Good for the players that made that happen. Andrew Copp was a big factor in the overtime goal Friday night, and Mac Bennett on Monday night. Our leaders are leading. But our whole team knows they can play better."

The Maize and Blue are proving their mettle, and now the next step is avoiding these situations altogether. That should come in time as the Wolverines gain even more confidence, the six freshman regulars earn experience and the defensive corps, which has been in flux, solidifies.

News: Bennett netted his first goal of the year, and the game-winner, when he snuck behind an unsuspecting defense for a one-timer from fellow defenseman Mike Chiasson in Monday's win. Both blue liners were on the end line and risked exposing an odd-man rush if there was a turnover. However, in this stance, the gamble paid off.

Berenson: "It's a good thing we scored because we had two defensemen deep down below the goal line. That happens once in awhile. It wasn't a set play. That was just a reaction. Mac is going to do whatever he can if our team needs something. He took a risk and it paid off.

"The one thing about Mac Bennett is if he gets trapped in the wrong zone, he's going to catch somebody skating back. He's a guy that has the speed to recover. We're not going to lament the fact of what could have been. What happened was a great play for Michigan."

Views: When Michigan's defensemen attack, a forward always (or is supposed to) cycles back to the blue line to cover for him, and in this case, junior Phil Di Giuseppe was there. Bennett had to have seen his teammate backing up Chiasson on the right point because he never would have gone for broke if all five Wolverine skaters were deep in Buckeye territory.

As Berenson said, Bennett is a tremendously gifted skater that had the play gone awry, he could have hustled back, but even then it may have been too late. Still, as Berenson said, the play was successful and while it was risky, there is no sense dwelling on what could have gone wrong when it instead proved the game-winner.

News: Michigan hosts Team USA Thursday, giving some players a chance to rest, while 2014 signee Dylan Larkin will wear the red, white and blue and suit up against his future team.

Berenson: "We're going to take Derek DeBlois out of the lineup and Bennett, he has a few bumps and bruises. You'll see [defenseman] Brennan Serville back in the lineup. He's healthy and we need to see where he is. Outside of that, our team is the same. [Forwards] Evan Allen will play. Max Shuarts will play. Justin Selman is sitting out with a swollen ankle. The only defenseman that isn't playing who played last year is Michael Szuma. He hasn't played this year, and we've got Andrew Sinelli on defense right now."

These games are usually more fun for the future college players than it is for Michigan, but the Wolverines do not want to be embarrassed, especially after losing 5-3 a year ago.

The bigger story is that Sinelli remains in the lineup instead of Szuma, who is a junior and has spent three years on the blue line. A forward, Sinelli only converted to defense 10 days ago. He played in both games against Ohio State.

"I like his quickness," Berenson said. "He's a good skater. He goes back to get the puck and he'll win that race. He'll take a hit to make a play. And he's a defensive forward so he has good defensive instincts in our zone."

Szuma missed some time with a concussion but after a long and thorough rest, he's back at practice. It appears, though, that for now, Sinelli has won the job and he will be given every chance to compete with Serville to be the Maize and Blue's sixth defenseman.

Chiasson, who has played in each of the last six games since rookie Kevin Lohan went down, has solidified his role.

"He's played pretty well," Berenson said. "He's a Steady Eddie type defenseman. Once he got his legs under him I thought he held his own."

News: Freshman Zach Nagelvoort will get the start in net Thursday, but Berenson has not committed to a goalie for the Dec. 11 game against Ferris. He has rotated the two netminders in each of the last two-game series, and even though sophomore Steve Racine surrendered four goals Monday, Berenson though he played well.

Berenson: "I don't like any goals against and there was a goal that a goalie can save and I think Steve would tell you that, but there were definitely some shots they should have scored on that he stole from them. He was the reason we won that game."

Views: For now, it appears that Michigan will be a two-goalie team. Berenson has always been a one-goalie coach, but he's in no hurry to name a No. 1.

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