Michigan Wolverines: Six Game Report
By David Malinowski (@dmmm14)
If you could characterize the most mandatory characteristic in all of sports, the above word will come to every coach’s mind. Winning needs losses like the sunshine needs the rain.
The first loss of the season came to the fourth seeded Michigan Wolverines on Saturday night as they were beaten by the projected top finishers in HockeyEast, the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks.
“I’m reacting like a coach that didn’t really lose the game, but we lost too many parts in the game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson to members of the press. “Both teams had glorious chances,” he continued, “but on the other hand, we have to score more than one goal. We’ve got to take advantage of our chances better than we did tonight.”
The exhibition game against Waterloo foreshadowed an early problem for the Wolverines: burying chances. The Wolverines have out shot their opponents in nearly every game this season and have out chanced their opponents in every game they played.
“You can’t win them all,” said captain and defenseman Mac Bennett after the loss.
Chances can be generated in any way possible, loosely or aggressively, but at the end of the day, somebody has to put the puck in the back of the net. That’s why the Toronto Maple Leafs can get out shot by obscene margins and still win, because they have players who score consistently, while the Devils dominate possession statistics and shots on goal and have two wins through eleven games.
The Wolverines have guys like Tyler Motte, who has a team leading four goals and was the first player to be named the star of the week this season in the Big Ten Conference. To put that in perspective, he is one of three freshmen in the nation who have done so, the other two being Michael Pontarelli of Union College and Sam Anas of Quinnipiac University. His line mate, J.T. Compher, is good for five assists on the season, one of four freshmen in the nation with that statistic under his belt.
However, a young player like Motte goes through a lot of frustration and growing pains, as seen tonight when he slammed his stick in the corner boards during the second period. Compher took an undisciplined penalty for roughing during the game against UMass-Lowell; it happens. The Wolverines, as mentioned in the season preview, have the second youngest roster in college hockey (youngest is Boston College of HockeyEast), yet one of the most talented.
That’s the biggest challenge for this team. Red Berenson has to get his roster to buy into a system and stay composed to make up for a lack of experience. Last season’s disappointments aside, this team wants to win now. They’re hungry, excited, and fiery.
I spoke to J.T. Compher after the first game of the season, a win against Boston College, and he talked about making the transition from the U.S. National Development Program.
“I’ve been waiting to come to this school for a long time,” Compher said. “You play some good teams, you play college teams when you’re in the national program, but you don’t get the same intensity as when you’re putting on the Michigan sweater.” Compher is a very dominant two way center, who like most freshman, goes through growing pains, but he certainly is performing to expectations all arond.
The team knows that it will have its positives and negatives, but it has to stick to the game plan and stay with it.
Saturday’s game encapsulated what can go wrong when a team gets too many opportunities to score and does nothing with them. Chance after chance was wasted as the wolverines had one goal on thirty-nine shots. Not only that, but Berenson wasn’t happy about the fact that his team yielded thirty six shots on goal to a struggling UMass-Lowell team.
So far, the Wolverines have largely been a team that is able to close the shooting lane to the point that the other team will have to thread a needle in the dark or be on the doorstep just to get shots on net. When they fulfill this task, they win. When they don’t, they lose.
Coach Berenson spoke about team identity and where he thinks this squad stands early in the season: “I think we’re starting to see it. We know right now that goals are at a premium. We can’t afford to give any goals up because we can’t score many goals, but we know we’ve got a good nucleus of young players that are fitting in and they’re just going to get better.” Indeed they are.
Berenson also touched on the fact that it’s time for certain players to break out of their shells, stating that Christopher “Boo” Nieves needs to learn when to turn on the jets and use his Michael Grabner-like speed, and junior Phil DiGiuseppe needs to take on an even larger role now that he’s been around great players for three years.
Goaltending is almost a non issue in the fact that with every press conference comes praise for Steve Racine or Zach Nagelvoort.
Special teams, other than the outlying two goals given up against UMass-Lowell is almost a non issue, as Michigan moves the puck well for the most part on the powerplay and the penalty kill is usually lights out.
What does this all of this revert back to? Breaking in young players. If Michigan’s nine freshmen can all buy in and adapt to college hockey quickly and efficiently, they’ll be an extremely dangerous squad.