Junior goalie Adam Janecyk has started each of the last three games for the Michigan hockey team. Is he the answer in net for the Wolverines? We take a look at this question and a few more as the second half of the regular season gets underway.
Is Adam Janecyk the answer for the Maize and Blue?
Janecyk improved to 2-1-0 on the year with U-M's 5-2 victory over Michigan State Dec. 30 in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational. In that contest, he did what he's done in all three starts so far - he's made the routine saves and hasn't allowed the bad goal.
Janecyk now boasts a 2.00 goals against average and a .940 save percentage, and those are all the more impressive considering Michigan's defense played horrible in a 4-0 semifinal loss to Michigan Tech at the GLI and was mediocre in the first two periods of the win over MSU.
The junior netminder hasn't done anything spectacular yet. There was no ridiculous jaw-dropping save at the holiday tournament, but he was in the right position, swatting away the pucks he should be able to stop, and that's all head coach Red Berenson has asked of his goalies this season. Something neither freshman Steve Racine nor classmate Jared Rutledge has been good at.
For now, the job is Janecyk's. He should start Friday's exhibition against Team USA, and is in line to start a Jan. 8 bout against Bowling Green. Berenson will ride Janecyk for as long as he can because the junior represents just a little bit of hoped and because the two first-year netminders haven't shown they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
When will defenseman Jon Merrill return to the lineup?
Merrill, out all year with a cracked vertebrae suffered in a preseason game, skated with the team for the first time last week. He has a doctor's appointment today (Jan. 2) and if he is given the all-clear, will begin going full contact with the Wolverines.
It is likely that even if given a clean bill of health, Merrill would probably receive a few more days to recover so don't look for him to play Friday against the U.S. Under-18 squad. More likely, he would return against the Falcons next Tuesday.
With Merrill back in the lineup, Michigan adds a top defenseman - arguably U-M's best coming into the season - that can consume 25 minutes of ice time per night. Merrill could be key to jumpstarting a power play that ranks 41st nationally, converting just 14.3 percent of its chances, and he will also aid a penalty kill that sits 31st, killing off just 82.7 percent.
Merrill is the type of talent that makes everyone around him better, and his play could be the key to any potential second-half run the Maize and Blue make. However, he is not a savior for this program. There are still too many blue liners playing poor defensively, and too many forwards failing to make the most of their offensive chances while playing lazily in their own zone.
In other words, Michigan has much it has to fix, and one man will not solve all of U-M's problems, but he should improve every facet of the Wolverines' operation and could spark his teammates.
What are Michigan's NCAA chances as of today?
Splitting the GLI, Michigan now sits at 7-10-2. The magic number to compete for an NCAA at-large bid is a .579 winning percentage. To reach that mark over its next 17 games (15 regular-season and at least two playoff contests), U-M would have to go 14-3-0. Of course, much can change based on how deep into the CCHA Tournament the Wolverines push, and how other teams fare around them, but the Maize and Blue have to win, and have to start winning at an incredible rate.
It won't be easy. After hosting BGSU and Alaska Jan. 11-12, Michigan plays eight of its final 12 games on the road, and nine away from Yost (it will meet Michigan State in a neutral-site affair Feb. 2). By the time U-M wraps the regular season with two at home against Ferris State March 1-2, it could be facing a scenario in which its only hope is winning the league tournament.
And, really, that is likely the Maize and Blue's best shot to qualify for the NCAA postseason this year. Three years ago, in 2010, Michigan did just that, sweeping the CCHA in six games to earn a national tournament bid. The Wolverines have to find some of that magic to have a realistic chance again.