ANN ARBOR – If last season’s games are any indication, expect two nail-biters out of Michigan and Michigan State this weekend. Each time the two rivals met last year, the games either went to a shootout or were decided by one goal. The Wolverines earned the slight 3-1-1 advantage in that season series, though each game could’ve gone either way.
Both teams have gotten off to slower starts than they would have liked in the CCHA this season, and the six points that hang in the balance for this weekend’s home-and-home are crucial.
Translation: It could easily be more of the same when the Spartans and Wolverines meet, beginning Friday night at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
And if Michigan wants to erase memories from a disappointing two-point weekend at Northern Michigan last weekend, it will need to find a way to slow down a red-hot Michigan State power play, which is connecting on over 25 percent of its opportunities right now.
Earlier this season, it appeared the Wolverines’ penalty killers were in for an impressive campaign, killing the first 10 penalties they faced. But since, things have slowed down considerably, and the Northern Michigan power play found consistent success against Michigan.
The Wolverine power play will certainly get its chance as well, considering the Spartans lead the CCHA with 125 penalty minutes.
For Michigan coach Red Berenson, the weekend will come down to whichever team plays the smartest hockey.
“I think it will be a weekend of mistakes,” Berenson said. “Whatever team can force the other team to make the most mistakes could be costly.”
The Wolverines need to stay out of the box to make sure the Spartans don’t even get the chance to capitalize on those opportunities.
Meanwhile, a lot of the focus will be on Michigan’s growing depth on the blue line. This week, Berenson seemed optimistic that sophomore defenseman Brennan Serville would return against Michigan State after not traveling to Marquette last weekend.
Obviously, the loss of defenseman Jon Merrill to an injury in the exhibition opener has hurt the Wolverines considerably, but the Michigan defense will be boosted by the return of freshman standout Jacob Trouba who is returning to action after a disqualification penalty that kept him out of the Northern Michigan series. Last weekend, the defense situation got so slim for the Wolverines that forward Jeff Rohrkemper needed to slide back and help out, much to Berenson’s approval.
“He’s got the ingredients (of a defenseman),” Berenson said. “He’s smart, he passes the puck well and has good defensive instincts.”
Berenson didn’t have a specific way to prepare for a rivalry that has seen notoriously close games recently, but he did note that these are the type of games Michigan dreams of playing.
“Normally, there’s a little more urgency and a sense of importance,” Berenson said. “There’s a little more buzz around the games, before the games, the fans, especially when you’re playing at home. … We belong in this game. We’re ready for this game.”