Mid-season report: Michigan hockey team can emerge from break re-energized and at full strength
A .500 Michigan hockey team at the end of December wasn't what Red Berenson envisioned when the Wolverines began the season.
But after a tumultuous start and an uncharacteristic 5-game losing streak that stained Michigan's first 18 games, Berenson will live with breaking even.
For the first time in 11 years, Michigan will enter the GLI at full strength. The Wolverines ran the risk of losingÂ forwards David Wohlberg and Chris Brown,Â who tried out for the Junior World Championship team. Instead, they were cut.
Brown, who ranks third in scoring, was among the final two players let go.
"That's a little bit good and bad," Berenson said Wednesday. "It's bad that he didn't make the team, but it's good that we'll have him for the GLI. Michigan can certainly use him."
The Wolverines (9-9, 5-7 CCHA) haven't practiced since splitting a home-and-home series with Notre Dame earlier this month. Michigan will return to the ice Saturday and work out for 3 days before facing Rensselaer in the GLI semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Joe Louis.
The 2-week sabbatical isn't optimal for a team trying to rebound. Berenson has only 3 days to get the defending GLI champs back to game speed.
With a win Tuesday, Michigan would face either Michigan State or Michigan Tech in Wednesday night's championship. Last season, the tournament title gave the Wolverines a much-needed kick-start to the season's second half - Michigan won 6 of its first 7 games after the break.
Berenson knows the Wolverines have the same opportunity this year. But in order to build momentum, Michigan must take a positive first step against a Rensselaer team that, like the Wolverines, is 9-9 and was inconsistent throughout the first half.
"(The GLI) is the kind of tournament where it's important that you get to that championship game," he said.
After the GLI, the Wolverines begin a January slate that includes series against Western Michigan, Alaska, Ferris State and Michigan State.
Despite his team's struggles in the first half, Berenson saw enough positives to give him optimism for what's ahead. Michigan has shown improvement on the power play and on defense while forward Louie Caporusso has seemed to shrug off a early-season scoring slump.
The Wolverines have gotten overall solid play from goalie Bryan Hogan, but need to improve in the goals against category while cutting down on the 5-on-3 predicaments the Wolverines have put themselves in by taking bad penalties.
But if the Wolverines can continue to turn things around and find ways to win close games, Berenson believes they may be primed for the kind of late-season run that was expected when the season began.
For the time being, though, Berenson is content with the progress he's seen.
"I think we're doing a lot of things well, but we just need to start doing everything well," he said.