Hockey Preview: U-M hosts Northern Michigan
Michigan's practices earlier this week didn't have the same carefree atmosphere the Wolverines have enjoyed for most of the year, and for good reason. U-M is coming off its first winless weekend, going 0-1-1 against Michigan State. The Maize and Blue will look to get back on the winning track against Northern Michigan …
"When you get one point, you want to get back out there as soon as possible, get the next win and prove it was a fluke weekend, and that we're better than what we showed against State," senior captain Kevin Porter said. "We have another tough series against Northern. We took it to them at their place and they're going to try to do the same to us here. We have to be ready for them."
Faced with a daunting early-season conference schedule, the Wildcats began 0-6-0 in CCHA play, losing consecutively to Michigan, Michigan State and Miami. Since then, however, NMU is 7-5-0 in league contests.
"[Since starting 0-6], they've won a game every weekend in the league," head coach Red Berenson said. "They played Notre Dame and split. Home and home with Lake State and they swept Lake State. Western, at home, and split. Went to Ferris and split. And so on. They've done that every weekend. Went to Alaska and split.
"Is that a good weekend for them? Maybe. Is it a good weekend for us? No.
"We have to have a good weekend. Whether it's maturity or confidence or preparation or focus, we need to have a good game Friday and that's where the weekend starts."
Berenson won't allow his team to think about its upcoming series at CCHA-leader Miami Feb. 8-9. In fact, a simple question about the trip to Oxford brought out Berenson's glare earlier this week.
"The media looks ahead. We talk about this weekend. Everyone else talks about the next weekend so let's not talk about it. And why would you talk about it? We'll have our hands full this weekend," he said.
Michigan has plenty to work on too as it looks to win its fifth and sixth straight games against Northern Michigan. U-M surrendered three power-play goals to MSU last weekend while going 1 or 7 with the man-advantage. In their past four games, the Wolverines have converted only 14 percent of their power-play opportunities.
"We've always said it's hard to learn from your mistakes when you're winning," Porter said. " You can definitely learn a lot when you lose or tie. We only gave up three goals to Michigan State, which is usually great, but wasn't enough because we have to be better offensively, and on the power play – and penalty kill obviously hurt us.
"We worked hard, did a lot of good things. We just didn't bury our chances. The penalty kill is something we have to improve, but the effort was there. It wasn't like we got outworked. They weren't better than us. They just buried their chances and we didn't. This weekend, we have to put the puck in the net."
What & When: Northern Michigan at No. 2 Michigan Friday and Saturday … Both games will begin at 7:35 p.m. … Friday's contest can be seen on Comcast Local … No TV for Saturday … WTKA 1050 AM (Ann Arbor) will have both games.
Who's Hot: Junior goalie Billy Sauer has allowed two or fewer goals in nine straight starts and in 19 of 24 games played this year … Sauer leads the nation in save percentage (.937) and is second in goals against average (1.68) … Porter and senior linemate Chad Kolarik are the highest-scoring duo in the country with 72 points on 40 goals and 32 assists … Freshman center Matt Rust has recorded at least one point in three of the past four games.
What To Watch For: Porter looks to end a two-game scoreless streak – his longest stretch without a point this season … Michigan fell three points back of the Redhawks in the CCHA race but with Miami off this weekend, U-M jump into first place with a sweep of Northern … Freshman forward Ben Winnett probably won't play this weekend after suffering a concussion against Michigan State Jan. 25 … Rookie defenseman Scooter Vaughan may return to the lineup tonight, though, after missing two games due to illness.