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Wolverines look to reverse trend of dropping first games of series, loosen up in practice

Salam Rida/Daily
Forward Matt Rust (19) plays against Ferris State on Saturday, October 29, 2010 at Yost Ice Arena. Michigan won 3-2. Buy this photo

BY CASANDRA PAGNI
Daily Sports Writer
Published November 9, 2010

After splitting three straight weekend series to either ranked opponents, conference foes, or both, the No. 9 Michigan hockey team is understandably frustrated.

The Wolverines (4-1-1-0 CCHA, 5-2-3 overall) have dropped three straight Friday night contests before rebounding to put their opponents away in the series finale.

Michigan boasts a 4-0-2 record on Saturday nights, but isn't finding its groove on Fridays.

“I think we have the right mindset going into Friday,” senior alternate captain Matt Rust said after Monday’s practice. “But our intensity on the ice, the little things were doing, being smart with the puck, playing more physical … we're just not doing those things on Friday night.”

While Michigan coach Red Berenson won’t complain about the team’s scoring — especially in its recent Saturday night victories — he is concerned about the team getting better both collectively and individually.

“There’s probably not a player in the locker room that is satisfied with what he’s done in the first 10 games,” Berenson said. “They’re not satisfied with what the team has done, they’re not satisfied with what they’ve done and so on. There’s a point of realism where you have to look in the mirror and say ‘What am I doing?’ ”

After taking stock of past games this season, one of the methods the Wolverines will use to improve their Friday night performance is to focus on incorporating more enthusiasm into practice and games.

From exaggerated celebrations after scoring a goal in practice to cracking jokes in the stretching circle, Michigan knows a lighter mood can help increase the tempo and help the team get focused.

“We’re trying to loosen up the atmosphere,” Rust said. “Some guys, myself especially, are gripping the stick a little too tight.”

Finding a balance between having fun and remaining competitive is an idea that came straight from the top, as Berenson said he was worried about the team “getting too tight” after the recent weekend splits.

Berenson stressed that the Wolverines need to incorporate some emotion into their practices and looks to Rust and the other captains to help set the example.

“Coach brought up (having fun) today in practice,” Rust said. “There’s a lot of stress, and you can kind of feel it whether you’re on the ice or in the locker room. It kind of helps things out when you bring a little bit of fun into it, whether it’s in practice or a game or in the weight room. Just bringing more of a fun aspect to it just helps us get the work ethic up, the confidence up, and everything starts falling into place.”

With Michigan currently in second place in the CCHA standings — just one point behind conference-leading Notre Dame — this weekend’s matchup with the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish takes on extra importance. The Wolverines will debut their maize jerseys for the first time this season on Friday.

With a 5-2-1 record in their maize jerseys last season, sophomore right wing Chris Brown thinks the new jerseys could be the icing on the cake for a Michigan squad that looks to take its new, energized attitude into Friday night and grab game one of the series.

“We don’t lose in maize,” Brown said. “That’s our motto. It makes it special. When you get to put that jersey on, no other team has that and no other team has that tradition that we have. Especially when you play Notre Dame, it’s even more special.”