- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 27, 2013
1. Whether it’s Steve Racine or Zach Nagelvoort, Michigan can rely on its goaltending.
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Last year, starting then-freshmen goaltenders Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine meant taking a risk. The defense felt the pressure to do too much, and the offense wasn’t capable of building up a big enough lead.
This year, the Wolverines inserted the freshman Nagelvoort in a pinch to replace the injured Racine, who pulled a groin against New Hampshire last weekend. Nagelvoort has been beyond consistent, making the saves he was supposed to and then some this weekend.
His reflexes to slide across the net and the vision to pick a puck out of the air are special for anyone at such a young age, but his inexperience in stick handling and timing coming out of the net still require work.
In four appearances, Nagelvoort is 2-1-1 against three top-20 teams, which is most important to his teammates.
“It's a huge confidence booster, that’s for sure,” said senior defenseman Mac Bennett. “He played fantastic tonight, and he gave us a chance to win this game. He’s been really, really solid since he's come in, and I’m really happy with his play.”
Better yet, Racine also looked solid in his limited action and instills the same confidence in his team.
Berenson said the last time he had two goalies who both excelled was three years ago during the Big Chill at the Big House. Then, Shawn Hunwick filled in for Bryan Hogan and started the remainder of the season. Michigan advanced to the National Championship that year.
2. Michigan’s offense won’t be potent until it buries its chances.
The Wolverines tallied 83 shots in two games. They scored on just three of them.
For what has been deemed one the deepest units he’s ever seen, Berenson has reason to be upset with a .036 shot percentage. It’s clear Michigan can create chances, which should theoretically mean more goals, but that hasn’t been the case.
“We have to score more than one goal at home,” Berenson said Saturday. “We’ve got to take advantage of our chances better than we did tonight.”
Freshman forward Tyler Motte had one of those scoring chances late against the River Hawks on Saturday, when he received the puck near the crease with an open net but sent it wide left. Senior forward Derek DeBlois also failed to finish with an open net, pushing his shot just wide.
It doesn’t help when both of the opposing goalies’ play is outstanding, but missed opportunities like Motte’s and DeBlois’s have become costly.
The offense has shown its potential against RIT when it scored seven times, but its play in the past two weeks has not lived up to its reputation. Big Ten teams will play comparable, if not better, offense to recent Hockey East opponents, which means the Wolverines won’t be able to constantly rely on their goaltenders.
3. The all-freshmen line is playing like it’s a veteran line.
At the end of Friday’s contest against Boston University, with a slim 2-1 lead in the waning seconds, Berenson sent out the third line of freshmen Motte, JT Compher and Evan Allen.
The 11th-ranked Terriers pulled their netminder in the final minutes in attempt to tie the game and fired more shots in the third period than the previous two, but the young line held on for the win.
The move was bold of Berenson, who said prior to the season that he had planned to put younger players with experienced ones. It demonstrates his early trust in unproven players at the collegiate level.
“I just had a good feel for these three,” Berenson said. “They’re competing hard. They’re always making good decisions on the ice.”
All three were members of the U.S. National Team Development Program last year and show solid chemistry on the ice. Saturday’s game was the first in the past five games that Motte did not score. Meanwhile, Compher continues to create scoring chances when he brings the puck down.
“We’re all the same age, and we’ve all been together for a few years,” Allen said. “Me and Tyler have been together before that, so I think we have a lot in common on the ice and off the ice.”
4. Penalties will be costlier than usual.
The Wolverines have allowed five power-play goals thus far, good for 27th fewest in the nation.
The middle-of-the-pack numbers don’t tell the whole story.