Michigan coach Red Berenson gave an impassioned speech to his team at center ice following a practice earlier this week. It was the kind of emotionally-charged lecture he shouldn't have had to give with Michigan State in town, but he found it necessary to snap U-M out of its doldrums.
The Wolverines are 3-3-1 overall this season, but haven't won in three tries, going 0-2-1. They haven't swept a series all year, have instability in net - rookie Jared Rutledge is replacing classmate Steve Racine tonight, making his first start since Oct. 27 - and injuries have dogged the defensive corps. But those are excuses, and Berenson doesn't care for them.
"Our team needs to compete hard every day and learn to compete harder in the games," said Berenson. "I don't have to tell them this is a big weekend but we need to ramp it up in practice. Usually I sense that on the ice from our team in a week like this, but I can't tell you I have. Not enough anyway. I made it clear what we expect from everyone.
"It wasn't about the weekend we just had. This is about our compete level. Part of our practice we really got going, skating, and moving the puck and working like we need to, but every day they need to come to the rink with the idea that 'I'm not just coming to practice, I'm coming here to earn a job and prove I should be playing.'
"They need to come here with an attitude, not just to have fun. The fun is after you have a good practice, not during practice."
Yost Ice Arena will be sold out tonight with rival MSU in town and maybe that's the medicine the Maize and Blue need.
"We know we're playing a good team, maybe one of the best teams we will have played, and we need to grow our game," junior defenseman Mac Bennett said. "Coming off last weekend we have to be better defensively, we're giving up too many goals. There are lots of parts of our game that have to be better."
The good news is U-M should be healthier this weekend. Sophomore Brennan Serville is expected back in the lineup after missing two games with a facial concussion. Rookie defender Jacob Trouba will also return after sitting out a game following a nasty hit that led to a single-game suspension.
In Trouba's absence a week ago, with Michigan down to five eligible blue liners, senior forward Jeff Rohrkemper had to step in at defense. He and partner Kevin Clare finished with a plus/minus of minus-1, but he did not play poorly.
"He did a good job," Berenson said. "He has the ingredients - he's smart, he passes the puck well, he has good defensive instincts. He was fine in the game.
"He gets back there and he knows what it's like for a forward to get open for a defenseman so with the puck I think it was pretty easy for Jeff. And then defensively, he rubbed the man out, took the body; he looked like a defenseman out there.
"If we had a guy go down, I'd feel really comfortable with him, and so would he knowing he could go out there and do it."
Rohrkemper admitted he hadn't played defense since he was a child, but was glad to pitch in.
"It was easy to say it was fun with how things turned out because I didn't get exposed too bad," he said. "It was a good experience, and I think later in the year if defensemen got hurt they would feel comfortable going back to me."
Rohrkemper's selfless attitude and determination to make a difference has to show up more throughout the rest of the team. Berenson cited a number of players that simply aren't playing up to their potential and while not unnerved by his team's early performance, he repeated himself with "we need to see more" especially from the veterans.
The puck drops tonight at 7:35 p.m. The game can be seen on Comcast Channel 900. Tomorrow's 7:05 p.m. start time in East Lansing can also be seen on Channel 900 in the Ann Arbor area.