In looking only at the results, Michigan’s first half of the season can only be described as ho-hum.
With a few exceptions, if the Wolverines played two games in one weekend, chances are they won one and lost the other.
“The Friday game has been a bugaboo for us,” head coach Red Berenson said. “We’ve had the odd really good game on Friday, but for the most part we start off well and the second or third period costs us the game. Then we bounce back with a better 60-minute effort the next night.”
Michigan’s second-half success, according to Berenson, will largely depend on getting one player back and getting another player going.
Cooper Marody, who was forced to sit out the first half of the season due to being academically ineligible, returned for Michigan’s first game at the Great Lakes Invitational in late December. Marody, a sophomore center, had 10 goals and 14 assists for the Wolverines last year and had three assists in the GLI’s third-place game against Michigan State.
“(Marody) was arguably our best returning centerman, but he couldn’t play the first semester because of ineligibility,” Berenson said. “He played in the GLI and now he’ll center our top line with Alex Kile.”
Kile is the player that Berenson tabbed to produce more offensively in the new year.
“Alex Kile was expected to lead our team in scoring and he’s really struggled offensively,” Berenson said. “I will tell you he’s played hard, the effort’s been there. Maybe it’s just a little bit of luck or whatever, but he got a couple goals against Michigan State (at the GLI) and now he’s been connected with Cooper Marody.”
Kile, a senior, scored 13 goals his sophomore year and 15 last year but has only lit the lamp five times this season.
He’s not the only Michigan player struggling on offense. The Wolverines, who led the nation with 4.76 goals per game last season are only averaging 2.67 per contest this year. With the well-documented departures from last year’s squad Berenson said they didn’t expect to lead the nation again, but added that being 38th in the nation doesn’t cut it.
Michigan’s defense has improved slightly from last season, but the Wolverines are still giving up 2.83 goals per game.
“We’re in that little tough area where you’re not scoring and we’re still giving up a little bit too much defensively,” Berenson said.
Tony Calderone is the leading goal scorer for the team with 10 goals, which is one shy of his total from last year. Berenson said that Calderone may be finally reaching his potential at the college level, but added that he can’t do it alone.
“Tony’s one of those players where he came here with the reputation of being a pure goal scorer,” he said. “I think he was disappointed that the puck didn’t go in as easy at this level. Tony’s getting a chance this year to be more of a front-line player and he’s taken advantage of it.
“We just need to get more guys chipping in offensively, he’s the only player on our team that’s in double figures in terms of goals. We want to see Tony have his best year, but we have to get some other guys goings.”
Two freshmen, Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker, join Calderone at the top of Michigan’s scoring chart. Lockwood, who has 13 points this season, will be forced to sit out of Michigan’s series at Minnesota this weekend with an injury.
Getting the freshman healthy again will be key for Michigan, according to Berenson.
“He may have been our best player in the first half,” Berenson said of Lockwood, whose father, Joe Lockwood, was on the first team he coached at Michigan. “He’s killed penalties, he’s been a big part of our power play, he’s been a front-line player, he leads our team in hits and so on. He’s just been a real breath of fresh air.”
Slaker had four goals and eight assists during his first semester, but will have to improve upon his plus-minus rating of minus-10.
“He’s a hard workers and he’s a smart player,” Berenson said. “The only part of the game that really hurt his numbers were his goals against. And when you’re a freshman that’s a tough thing, you’re trying to score goals, but you’ve got to defend when you’re not scoring.”
Both of Michigan’s special-team units are ranked in the top-15 in the nation. Berenson said the team’s power play has been “not off the charts, but competitive.”
“In five on five, we’ve got to be better,” he said. “We’ve got too many players in the minus column. It really comes down to just being a little more stingy defensively. Our goalies have been better than average and our team hasn’t been.
“We’ve got to get better on both ends of the ice and,” Berenson added. “I’ve said this right from the start, I think our team can be better with the puck and we can be better without the puck.”
Michigan and Red Wings alumni play for a cause
Michigan will have had 14 days off between its last game against Michigan State and Friday’s contest against Minnesota, but Berenson wasn’t just sitting around and relaxing.
Aside from coaching during the alumni game between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks at this year’s NHL Winter Classic, he was in attendance last Saturday at Yost Ice Arena when the Michigan alumni and Detroit Red Wings alumni squared off to raise money for Scott Matzka.
Matzka played hockey for Berenson and the Wolverines from 1997 to 2001. After Michigan he played at different professional levels until the 2012-13 season. The 38-year old father of two was diagnosed with ALS in September of 2015.
“We’ve been scratching our heads as to what we can do to help Scott and his family,” Berenson said of the event. “So we had a benefit game and the Red Wings alumni were great, they came over and they played the Michigan alumni and we had a lot of players and we had a lot of fun.
“It was just an unbelievable event. It was good to see former players. Obviously a lot of Matzka’s teammates and classmates came back, but a lot of players came back that never knew Scott Matzka, but they obviously knew his story and his cause and they came back from all over the country. It was really heart-warming.”
Three Stars of the Week
First star — Wisconsin sophomore forward Seamus Malone: Malone had one goal and two assists during Wisconsin’s home sweep of Michigan State last weekend. His goal came 33 seconds into Saturday’s game. This is his second career Big Ten weekly award.
Second star — Ohio State senior goaltender Christian Frey: Frey posted an impressive 46-save shutout against Penn State on Friday. His 85 saves over the weekend lead the nation. This is his seventh career Big Ten weekly award.
Third star — Wisconsin sophomore forward Luke Kunin: Kunin sat out Friday’s game against Michigan State after winning gold for the USA in the World Junior Championship the night before. He made up for lost time on Saturday, scoring twice in the second period to help Wisconsin sweep the Spartans. This is his fourth career Big Ten weekly award.
B1G in the Poll
No. 4 Penn State, No. 9 Minnesota and No. 10 Ohio State represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll. Wisconsin received votes in the poll.
1. Penn State
5. Boston University
7. North Dakota
8. Boston College
10. Ohio State
13. Notre Dame
14. Western Michigan
16. Bemidji State
17. Minnesota State
18. Michigan Tech
19. St. Lawrence
20. Air Force
This Week’s Matchups
Michigan State at Penn State (Friday and Saturday, Pegula Ice Arena)
Michigan at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)
Arizona State at Ohio State (Friday and Saturday, Value City Arena)