By Garrett Fodor
The Wolverines are struggling on the ice this season.
The University of Michigan Wolverines are known as one of the top NCAA institutions when it comes to producing athletic talent. They have the most alumni on NHL rosters, with 18 skaters including Detroit’s Dylan Larkin. After finishing the 2015-2016 season second in the Big Ten Conference with a record of 12-5-3, expectations for the 2016-2017 season were high. Fast forward one year and their position in the standings is dismal.
This season the Wolverines are sitting second last in the conference with a 2-8-2 record despite having nine players in their starting lineup drafted by NHL teams. The team began this season earning recognition by USA Hockey, getting ranked for several straight weeks and peaked at 18. Included in that early season was a win over third ranked Boston University.
Feb. 10 and 11 the Wolverines played the only team below them in the standings, their cross-state rival the Michigan State Spartans.
The Spartans entered averaging 2.4 goals per game and 3.92 goals against compared to the Wolverines 2.72 and 3.16. Despite these stats the Wolverines head-to-head record is 1-1-1 and on January 20 the Spartans shutout the Wolverines on their home ice in Ann Arbor.
The teams concluded their season series in Ann Arbor on Feb. 11. This season when the Spartans score the first goal of the game they have a record of 4-4-2 on the season and when they register 30 or more shots they are 4-6-1. They did both of those Feb. 11.
After a scoreless opening frame, the Spartans exploded for three goals on nine shots in the second period, while Michigan had a combined 14 shots after two periods. When the Spartans lead after two periods they are 3-2-0 this season.
Wolverines captain and defenceman Nolan De Jong said he feels it was the team’s fault rather than the goaltending in the game. De Jong also said he felt his team is gritty but had no business in the post whistle scrums.
In the third period, the Spartans scored 55 seconds after puck drop to quiet the Maize and Blue fans. As a result, tempers flared and there was a lot of shoving and penalties after the whistle. Michigan forward, Griffin Luce scored with 10 seconds left to give fans who stuck around a reason for staying and spoil Spartan goalie John Lethemon’s shutout. Shots in the game were 34-24 for the Spartans.
Wolverines head coach Red Berenson said he is disappointed with his team’s effort on home ice.
“Obviously we are really disappointed in that game and the way we played from start to finish,” said Berenson. “We took a step backwards. Our rival took a step forwards and I can’t blame our goaltender. I thought Jack LaFontaine played fantastic. Our team got out played from start to finish.”
The Wolverines will close out their NCAA season at home on March 11 in Ann Arbor against Penn State.
“This has been a great place for Michigan to play and this team has maybe had a glimpse at that,” said Berenson. “Michigan State is playing better here then we are. They don’t know what it takes to prepare on a daily basis, and that’s too bad. It is too late in the season for that now.”