Michigan Facing Tough Test In Tourney Opener

One may be the loneliest number.

But it sure beats zero.

Since finishing a road sweep against Northern Michigan on Nov. 12., the Wolverines have not beaten a single quality opponent on the road. The team has played Tournament-bound Miami (two games), Nebraska-Omaha (two games) and Michigan State (one game) and amassed a 0-5-2 record in the process.

This alarming trend can be traced throughout the entire season. Michigan is just 5-6-3 on the road, and only two of those wins came against a quality opponent, the aforementioned Northern Michigan series sweep.

Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t sound too optimistic about his team’s chances heading into the NCAA Tournament during the team’s voluntary practice Monday afternoon.

“Nothing you can look at on paper looks good for Michigan,” Berenson said. “And I’ve tried to look at it every which way, and we just don’t have a lot going for us right now.”

The Wolverines square off against North Dakota, the host school for the West regional, meaning Michigan will essentially be playing a road game. The Fighting Sioux have a mediocre home record over the course of the year (13-9-0), but are 8-3-0 at home since the beginning of the new year. North Dakota also boasts a four-game winning streak and a WCHA Tournament conference championship.

A strong road record has proven to be very important for championship teams over the past four seasons. Denver and Minnesota (the only national champions college hockey has seen in that time) had impressive road records (36-17-12 combined) during their championship run. Even last season’s Denver squad, an underachieving team much like this year’s Wolverines, had a 9-6-1 road record during the season.

“It’s a big concern,” said Berenson of the team’s poor performance on the road. “We’re not going (into the Tournament) on a roll, and this might be the toughest road environment we’ve played in. But we can’t just cancel the game and mail in the points.”

Berenson understands that as the most experienced person on the trip, it will be his job to “paint the right kind of picture” for the freshmen and the rest of the team. He preached the importance of getting off to a good start, which will be crucial if the Wolverines hope to quiet an opposing crowd.

Recent history has been kind to Michigan in playoff road games. Two seasons ago, the Wolverines had to travel to New Hampshire for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan defeated the Wildcats in front of their home crowd en route to a Frozen Four appearance. And back in 1998, the Wolverines beat Boston College to win the NCAA title in Boston.

Despite a bleak outlook that has left some scrambling to find a silver lining, senior goalie Noah Ruden believes the team’s not having the same anxieties.

“You don’t worry about that kind of stuff,” Ruden said. “If you start talking in your head about, ‘We haven’t won on the road in a long time,’ … you’re going to start psyching yourself out. (You can’t) worry about the fans, not worry about any of that other stuff, just worry about your game.”