Saturday, October 1
Michigan 2 – University of Ontario Institute of Technology 3 (Exhibition)
0-0-0 (0-0-0 CCHA)
Monday, October 3
Michigan 3 – US NTDP 1 (Exhibition)
0-0-0 (0-0-0 CCHA)
Tuesday, October 4
Michigan 5 – Niagara 0
1-0-0 (0-0-0 CCHA)
It was a busy start to the hockey season for Michigan, with three games in four days. Saturday’s season opener was the last thing fans of the defending NCAA runner-up wanted to see (although eerily reminiscent to last year’s regular season opener against Mercyhurst), as Michigan saw a 1-0 second period lead evaporate into a 3-1 deficit en route to a 3-2 loss to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology(?!?). Despite doubling up OIT in shots (56-28), handily winning the faceoff battle (48-22) and spending over a quarter of the game (15+ minutes) on the man advantage,Michiganwas only able to muster two goals. Much of this stemmed from the seeming inability for the Wolverines to set up in the offensive zone. Even while on the power play, the majority of the game played out in transition, with Michigan gaining control of the puck, rushing down the ice and maybe getting off a poor-quality shot before losing possessing and OIT coming right back the other way. That sums up how the Wolverines only managed two goals on 56 shots; while many “shots,” were taken, actual scoring chances were few and far between. All three of OIT’s goals appeared to come off of Michigan mistakes, none more evident than the breakaway shorthanded goal off of a sloppy turnover that got OIT on the board and tied the score at 1-1 in the second. None of the three goals Hunwick gave up were particularly bad; the blame really falls on sloppy play and poor defense that put him in nearly impossible situations. All the metrics showed that Michigan dominated this game (as they should have) except the one that really matters: the score. Sloppy offense and inexcusable mistakes turned what should have been an easy win into an embarrassing loss to an overmatched opponent. The only good news from the game is that as an exhibition, it doesn’t count.
Monday night an embarrassingly half-empty Yost watched Michigan take on the US NTDP Under 18 team coming all the way over from…the other side ofAnn Arbor. Despite shots being nearly equal (36-34Michigan), this game had a much different feel to it. The Wolverines still dominated the faceoffs (46-19), and after giving up an early goal to go down 1-0, the team regrouped and broke out of Saturday night’s funk.Michigan tied it up to go into the first intermission 1-1, and added an additional goal in each of the second and third periods to put this one away. The offense again looked sloppy, and the inability to keep offensive zone possession for large stretches of the game led to a large (but reduced) number of poor-quality shots. But there were more quality chances than against OIT (as evidenced by the three goals), and a reduction in stupid turnovers and other breakdowns gave the feeling that from the first intermission or so on, the game really wasn’t in doubt. Sure, it was a poorly played and closer-than-it-should-have-been game against an inferior opponent, but Hunwick and the defense played well and the team got the job done.
Tuesday’s game presented an interesting challenge. While Niagara isn’t an elite team, they’re certainly not horrible (18-13-4 last year with a few NCAA tournament appearances over the last decade), and in a whole different universe from Canadian geeks or 17 year old high school kids (US All Stars or not). Put plainly, a repeat of Saturday’s effort (and maybe even Monday’s) would certainly have resulted in a loss, and a loss that counts. This was the first real test for a largely young Michigan team; thankfully, they passed convincingly.Michigan took the lead a minute in and tallied five goals in the first two periods (a sixth was waived off due to a goaltender interference penalty) and Hunwick played brilliantly in a 5-0 shutout. Michigan was actually outshot (38-37), likely due in large part to badly losing the faceoff battle (40-27). Hunwick did make a few unbelievable saves to keep it a shutout instead of a 5-2 or 5-3 win, but despite the shot and faceoff numbers, in watching the game it was clear that it was never close. There were still some sloppy turnovers that gave way to odd-man rushes and precipitated the need for Hunwick magic, but the Wolverines’ offense played much better, and the defense was for the most part solid. The penalty kill also played well, with freshman Travis Lynch notching a beautiful shorthanded goal. Things went so well that Coach Berenson pulled Hunwick midway through the third to give backup Adam Janecyk some time. The high-point in the game came late in the second period, as Michigan made Niagara pay for a scary-looking check from behind on Glendening by pouring in two goals during the five minute major penalty (with a third being the previously mentioned waived off goal).
Some thoughts from the weekend: first, the team is young, and it shows, especially on defense. Freshmen Mike Chiasson and Brennan Serville stood out as frequently making mistakes and turning the puck over at inopportune times, and Alex Guptil also has appeared to struggle. Also, Jon Merrill’s 12 game suspension hurts. Pateryn is playing like a first-line defender and looks worthy of the A that adorns his jersey, and both Bennett and Clare have had some nice moments, but the gap created without Merrill is tough to fill. With only four seniors on the roster, young players will have to develop quickly to keep the team successful.
Second, the offense, and especially the power play, need work. The power play was a dismal 3/18 (16.67%), with a shorthanded goal given up. Going 1/4 against each the US NTDP and Niagara is decent but not great, but going 1/10 with a shorthanded goal surrendered against OIT is unacceptable. Needing particular work is positioning in the offensive zone. Frequently over the three games I noticed two Wolverine defenders behind the opposing goal—often running into each other or otherwise getting tangled up—and no one in front of the net. A number of opportunities were missed on what I can only imagine is a miscommunication, since in those instances two players weren’t needed behind the net but someone certainly should have been in front of it.
However, some players are stepping up to fill the offensive void left by the graduation of Rust and Hagelin. Lindsay Sparks is leading the way, nearly scoring a hat-trick against Niagara and adding a goal against the US NTDP. A few freshmen have stood out on the offensive front as well; Phil Di Giuseppe notched a goal in each of the exhibition games and looked slick doing so, and Zach Hyman grabbed his first points against Niagara with two assists, playing impressively in all three games and looking like he’ll tally his first goal any time now. Chris Brown also looked to be getting back to form against Niagara, getting his first goal on the season with the gritty play in front of the net that I’ve come to know him by. Notably absent though so far have been the snipes by Lee Moffie, but if he can get on track and the rest of the team continues to develop, this unit could end up looking like one of Michigan’s deadly 90’s-00’s offenses that have been sorely missed the past few seasons.