Goals could be hard to come by this weekend when Michigan hosts Northern Michigan for a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena starting tonight. The Wildcats allow a league-low 2.17 goals per game, and the Wolverines, who average a league-high 4.31 goals per game, will be minus three regular forwards. Senior center David Moss (7-17-24) has not skated all week due to a groin injury and will be held out of action, while sophomores David Rohlfs (5-3-8) and Mike Brown (3-3-6) each contracted mononucleosis and could miss up to a month's worth of games.
"There are two ways to look at it," head coach Red Berenson said. "We're shorthanded, or are we shorthanded?"
Most would argue the Wolverines are shorthanded. Backup forwards Mike Woodford and Charlie Henderson will be in the lineup tonight and joining them on the wing will be senior defenseman Reilly Olson, who has not played up front for even a single shift in his four-year career with the Maize and Blue.
"Reilly is a pretty good skater," Berenson said. "He's a senior. He hasn't played forward but he moves the puck well. It will take him a couple shifts in the game [to get used to his new position].
"That line will play depending on how well they play. Let's face it, every team has depth players that come in and play. You look at Charlie Henderson. How many games has he played since he's been at Michigan? He's played a lot of games. Mike Woodford has played a lot of games. So they have a lot of experience. Reilly is the only one without the experience, so he is a question mark. But I like the fact that he is in the lineup."
Michigan's roster features more talent offensive defenseman than Olson, including senior Eric Werner and sophomore Matt Hunwick. Werner has even played forward before. Last year he played on the right wing for four games in early December, but he did not record a point in his short stay. Berenson didn't think about using Werner this time around, noting he'd much rather have him on the blue line.
"I think you want to use your most experienced defensemen on defense," Berenson said. "Why take one of your best defenseman and put him at forward? Defense is a pretty important position."
Especially this weekend. Northern doesn't score often, only 2.58 goals per game, but there have been many teams Michigan has played this season that have far outdone their season averages. U-M's defense has allowed 2.65 goals per game this season, ranking fifth in the CCHA. Something will have to give when the league's best defense and the league's best offense square off.
"This is a great opportunity for Northern to come in and play tight hockey and wait for their breaks and chances," Berenson said. "They have a goalie and defense and a whole team that is playing well. And they're a good team. I think they're a better team offensively then they've shown. I think they're more than just a good defensive team."
Michigan needs to be more than just a good offensive team this weekend.
A subplot for this weekend's games will be what takes place off the ice. After years of fruitless success, Michigan's athletic department is prepared to take a bold step to rid Yost Ice Arena of the profanity used by the student section. When opposing players are sent to the penalty box, they are bombarded with a 'C-YA' chant that includes eight to nine swear words.
"We sent a letter to each of the students, again reaching out and hoping we can have a positive dialogue with them about correcting this one chant," Associate Athletic Director Mike Stevenson said. "All we're talking about is the C-YA chant and the profanity at the end of the chant. We also said, should you continue to use that profanity we're going to take action, which is removing you from Yost Ice Arena.
"Our plan is to inform students as they come into the building with a handout that should they use profanity in the way they have in the past, individuals will be singled out and removed from the arena and we'll do that with our ushers and our staff and if needed with assistance from the officers of DPS.
I'm hoping that won't be necessary. I'm hoping we won't have to have one person leave. I would think your love of Michigan hockey would prevent you from not wanting to see the rest of the game. We're going to warn you first. Don't do it again. We've singled you out. We've heard you the first time and we'll be watching the second time. We warn them when they walk in and we warn them again but if they continue to do it, then we're going to take action."
Berenson doesn't want to lose the home-ice advantage Yost has become famous for, but he is 100 percent behind the athletic department's decision.
"It's an athletic department decision, but they have my support," he said. "Let's not kid ourselves this is not acceptable. I've been around and seen it all, and I think our students are too creative and too smart to let this thing hurt our program. If they don't care about our program or our team or players or their friends and the fans that come to the game, then they'll continue to do what they're doing and they'll face the consequences."