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February 4, 2014

News and Views: U-M preps for first meeting with Penn State

The Michigan hockey team is feeling pretty good after earning five of six points against Wisconsin over the weekend, and is now 3-0-1 in its last four. The Wolverines travel to Penn State Friday for more Big Ten action.

News: U-M will meet Penn State for the very first time after the Nittany Lions became a varsity program in 2013 and joined the Big Ten in 2014.

Head coach Red Berenson: "They're the new kid on the block. Their rink is new. Their players are new. We've never seen their uniforms. I've never been to Penn State. They're going to play hard and play well. They're the reason we're all in this Big Ten, and I think they'll be the real deal.

"They went into Michigan State and lost but they outshot them [48-29]. It was a one-sided hockey game except Michigan State scored the goals they needed. We know we're going to get everything they've got. I've told our team we need to be better this weekend than we were last weekend."

Views: Like a team that is no-hit, Michigan doesn't want to be the program that goes down in the record books as Penn State's first conference victory; PSU is currently 0-8-0 in league play. More than that, however, as some of the Wolverines stressed Monday, they want to continue the roll they are on and secure the six points they need to stay in this Big Ten race.

Michigan has played well in spurts over the last four games, good enough to avoid a loss, but like the basketball team, the hockey team could be poised for a letdown and a defeat if they think they can get away with anything but their best in State College. Penn State wants a win too badly to just let talent dictate the outcome of the weekend.

The good news is that from the top on down, that message is seemingly sinking in. Berenson was preaching it Monday, and then two of U-M's captains reiterated the attitude. By the time Friday arrives, the Maize and Blue will be convinced they're playing Boston College, and should skate with the desperation it would take to beat the No. 2 team.

News: Michigan went 0 for 11 on the power play over the weekend, and has not scored a man-advantage goal since Jan. 11. The Maize and Blue are now in a 0 for 18 slump. U-M ranks 39th nationally converting just 17.2 percent of its chances.

Berenson: "It's a little bit of everything. It's a little bit of our confidence and our execution, and guys trying to do too much. The same player that made a good play on the first power play tries to do something special on the next one. Then they're getting confidence. They're stopping our power play, stopping it and stopping it. Wisconsin's special teams had not been that great on either side of the coin, just like ours. Both teams are trying to get confidence and they got more on their PK then we did on our power play.

"The problem with the power play is if you have a good one, you score 1 of 5 times, maybe 1 of 4, and that's a pretty good power play. Well that means you've failed 4 of 5 times and you're supposed to feel good about it. It's hard to build confidence when you're losing four times and you win once, and then you lose four more.

"We're in the loss column big time right now because we're not scoring at all. Mind you, I would say Tyler Motte's goal was a power-play goal. It came within seconds of their player coming on the ice. That was as a result of the power play. They don't keep stats on that, but we have to be better in that area."

Views: Berenson was asked if the lack of a heavy shot from the point is costing the Wolverines opportunities - a lack of rebound goals, shots from the blue line that get through a screened goalie and the knowledge for the defense that they can sag in the zone - and while he acknowledged they don't have a boomer, he was insistent that the coaches have catered to the personnel they do have and that the players near the end line are responsible for creating more.

That sounds good in theory, but it's hard to do because the space is more crowded. Still, U-M had plenty of chances with cross-ice passes to bury two or three power-play goals this past weekend, and every time, the Maize and Blue failed to execute. Perhaps that tide will turn, but until then, maybe more point shots and more rebounds will be what gets this unit going.

News: Senior right winger Luke Moffatt is third on the team with eight goals and 16 points. He has matched his previous best effort (eight markers in 2013) in 17 fewer games and is poised to eclipse 10 goals for the first time in his career. Among his tally, Moffatt has netted six power-play goals.

Berenson: "I've told Luke, it's about time. I think he should be a player that is capable of leading our team in scoring, and he's never lived up to that. He has skill. He can shoot the puck and score goals as well as anyone. He's had trouble being consistent.

"I hope he can get into a good groove. He has linemmates he likes. He's playing hard and well. He's on a power play. He went all last year on the power play and had one goal. Come on.

"And you see the kind of player he is, and even last year he was a junior but he didn't put it together, or have the confidence or the will to do it. But right now, he's a senior, playing with confidence, urgency, and it's paying off."

Views: There are examples like this throughout Berenson's career - players putting it together as seniors. The question of course is why couldn't they do it sooner, but while it's understandable to lament what could have been, the important thing is what is now, and Moffatt has been one of Michigan's most potent offensive weapons this season.

The Arizona native is one of the nicest guys on the team and has always been one of the hardest working but for whatever reason, he just struggled to do what he is naturally gifted at - putting pucks in the back of the net - until now. Michigan needs him to continue to score because there are plenty of other key forwards still slumping, and the good news for U-M fans is Moffatt shows no sign of slowing down.

News: Berenson still won't name an official starting goalie, but freshman Zach Nagelvoort has started each of the last six games, going 3-2-1 in that span with a 2.17 goals against average and a .940 save percentage.

Berenson: "He's proving that he's a solid goalie at this level. You can't take a goalie on one weekend or one game, but it's what you can do most nights, and he's getting a chance to prove just what Steve Racine proved in the last 10 games last year. That's the first time he proved he can be a go-to goalie, and I think Zach is proving that now."

Views: Berenson doesn't need to say it because actions speak louder than words, and his actions say one thing: Nagelvoort is his guy. That's unfortunate for Racine, who largely lost his job because of an injury earlier in the year that paved the way for Nagelvoort to showcase himself, but these things happen.

The rookie netminder did go through a rough stretch - a 0-3-0 mark in December and early January in which he posted a 3.33 GAA and a .905 save percentage - so it's always possible he will open the door up again for Racine. However, that tough time has proven a learning experience for the freshman and he's come out the other end to post some of his best numbers all season.

With Michigan winning, and playing stronger, Berenson will look to continue the same formula and that means Nagelvoort in net until there's a reason not to play him, and right now, there isn't a good one.


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