The Michigan hockey team is in Sault Ste. Marie this weekend to play Lake Superior State, and maybe that's a good thing. True, the Wolverines are winless on the road (0-3-2), but they just lost four straight at home too, and haven't been embraced by their fans lately.
The Maize and Blue are desperate. Desperate for a win. Desperate to find something, anything, to feel good about after falling six games below .500 (7-13-2) with last weekend's sweep at the hands of Alaska.
"I didn't see this coming," senior captain A.J. Treais said. "Coming into this year, on paper we were a really good team, and you never expect a Michigan team to struggle this much.
"I don't think it's one thing. I think it's a collection of a bunch of things. Injuries. Bad goaltending one night. Missing open nets. Bad passes. Bad backchecking by forwards, or not taking the man defensively. It's a whole bunch of things going wrong, and it seems if we have just one bad shift the puck goes in for them. It's tough."
Head coach Red Berenson doesn't pity his team but he's not giving up on them either, despite the long odds stacked against the Wolverines.
"Maybe our guys think they're just going to wear the Michigan jersey, and the other team is going to bow down to them, but they don't understand how hard they have to work in this league to win," he said.
"We're pushing and trying to get this train back on the tracks. I've coached teams I never thought would win another game. And I've coached teams I never thought would lose another game. And in one case it was the same team. They were so bad and then got going and they were a completely different team. That's the one hope that I have for this team."
For that to happen, for Michigan to start a hot streak and at least put the NCAA Tournament in the picture, everyone has to begin playing better, but the Maize and Blue really need one of their three goalies to heat up. It won't likely be freshman Jared Rutledge, who Berenson noted is behind the classmate Steve Racine and junior Adam Janecyk in the pecking order, but it needs to be someone.
"Your goalie doesn't have to win a game for you, but he can't be a factor in close games - like you lose a game and have that one bad goal against," he said. "The line is so fine now. We don't have enough offense. We don't have enough team momentum to survive less-than-good goalkeeping.
"We're trying to show confidence in them, but we don't show a lot of confidence when we have to pull them. You have to be mentally tough to be a goalie because if you think about it, you can't score goals. When you give a goal up, you're the last line of defense and everyone is looking at you. You know when it's a bad goal, and so do your teammates and everyone else.
"It's the bad goals that kill you, and then if you get pulled, it's tough, but my message to them is to go out and play the game you're capable of playing. And if you can't stop those easy shots, then you're not going to play."
With six weekends left to play in the regular season, there is still time to make up ground on the teams ahead of U-M in the standings. The Maize and Blue haven't given any sign they could rally to compete for the CCHA title, but they're only nine points out of fifth place and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. With six points on the line every weekend, a lot can change quickly.
"We're frustrated but excited for another weekend," Treais said. "Especially in this league where it only takes a few weekends to get back into the mix. Alaska is right back in the hunt, and that could be us if we could put a few weekends together."