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March 5, 2014

News & Views: Michigan splitting goalie duty

Mac Bennett will not be back for this weekend's games against Michigan State after missing two with a shoulder injury, but forward Tyler Motte and defenseman Andrew Sinelli should be after missing a game.

News: Head coach Red Berenson is not ready, nor does he feel compelled, to name a starting goalie for the rest of the season after both rookie Zach Nagelvoort and sophomore Steve Racine saw time against the Buckeyes last weekend.

Berenson: "I think every year is a little different with the goalie situation. I don't have a formula. I'm trying to evaluate, along with our coaching staff and our goalie coach, on a constant basis both of our goalies.

"We've seen one goalie have a bit of a push and the other goalie gets back in and does well. Individually, I think they're both in a better place right now than they were a month ago or two months ago."

Views: Plenty of folks will point to recent seasons (even last year) in which Michigan split starts in net between a pair of netminders before ultimately deciding on one starter. However, only once in 12 years covering the team did U-M go this late into the year uncertain of who its No. 1 was - in 2006, when senior Noah Ruden and freshman Bill Sauer were jockeying all the way until the playoffs.

During Michigan's 4-0-1 run Jan. 23-Feb. 7, Nagelvoort was the guy every night, posting a 1.80 goals against average and a .942 save percentage, but he hasn't been the same since surrendering three goals on nine shots in a 4-0 loss to Penn State Feb. 8. In two starts since, the first-year goalie has allowed seven goals on 71 shots (.901).

Racine hasn't been lights out in his four starts since subbing in for Nagelvoort against the Nittany Lions, recording a 3.50 GAA and a .881 save percentage, but Michigan is 2-2 in those games (and his numbers are better in the last two: 2.50 and .912), and the bottom line is how the team performs - U-M is 2-0 in Racine's last two games.

If Michigan continues to win with Racine between the pipes - and make no mistake, he came up huge in wins over PSU and OSU recently - the decision heading into the playoffs will be an easy one for Berenson.

News: Michigan is 2-0-1 (with a shootout defeat) in its last three games and Berenson is optimistic the Maize and Blue will build off their 4-3 Sunday matinee victory over Ohio State when it welcomes rival Michigan State to Yost Ice Arena this Friday.

Berenson: "You're as good as your last game and we were really good at times on Sunday, but other times there was a breakdown or a bad shift.

"I liked our team effort on the road - it was one of our better road games, and yet we're still hanging on right down to the wire, and that's the way it's been all year.

"We're trying to get our team back together where everyone is all in, and we're really encouraging and pushing our team to play better defense."

Views: Team chemistry was off the charts in the first half of the season when Michigan scorched out a 10-2-1 start, but it's waned some in the season's second half, which can happen when losing becomes more common (U-M is 6-6-3 since Jan. 1).

This is still a team that likes each other a lot, but its on-ice chemistry is not as strong as it once was. Injuries have played a role, but more than anything it's about individual and team confidence, and the Maize and Blue are still searching for it as they enter their final four regular-season games.

It sure would be nice to find it fast as a sweep of the Spartans would go a long way towards securing an NCAA at-large berth.

News: Sinelli, a converted forward, has been a godsend in a year in which injuries to fellow blue liners Mac Bennett and Kevin Lohan have wracked the defensive corps, and in the absence of a pair of players - Jacob Trouba and Connor Carrick - that would be in their sophomore year but are instead in the NHL.

Berenson: "There is no question that losing Trouba and Carrick is something you can't plan on and can't fill that void, but that's the way it is and we don't make excuses. We have the roster we have and our job is to win with the players we have.

"Because of his inexperience, Sinelli is a kid that will make some defensive reads or decisions that can cost you, but he has the recovery speed and skating to cover up his own mistakes in a lot of cases.

"He was a defensive-minded forward. He wasn't gifted offensively but he played hard in our zone. In a lot of areas it just comes natural to him to play defense. And the last thing is he's feisty. He's crusty along the boards, and plays hard and plays with an edge. He might be our lightest defensemen in terms of pounds but he doesn't play like that. He plays hard and gritty and he's quick with and without the puck."

Views: TheWolverine.com interviewed Sinelli for our Thursday podcast (look for it tomorrow) and the takeaway from the sit-down is that this is a young man that was desperate to get in the lineup more consistently and was willing to do anything to make it happen. With the threat of losing his spot, he has worked extremely hard to stay put, and he's arguably moved into the Wolverines' top-four defensemen.

That's a credit to him but also a criticism of some of the blue liners that have not realized their potential like junior classmates Brennan Serville and Mike Chiasson.

The question going forward is what will happen to Sinelli when Bennett returns to full health, or even next season.

"Depending on the needs of the team, that will sort itself out, but right now we need him on defense," Berenson said. "If he plays well, he adds something we don't have and good for him.

"He's proven himself, and if we get healthy he would definitely be someone that would give us an upgrade on our fourth line, but right now he's playing so well defensively that we like him there."


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