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Notebook: Wolverines embrace playoff mentality, Guptill improves attitude

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 25, 2013

In a perfect world, the Michigan hockey team wouldn’t have waited until the penultimate weekend of the regular season to get its first road series sweep.

But the Wolverines are more than content with their sweep over rival Ohio State in Columbus this past weekend. And if there were any ideal time for Michigan to get hot, it would be right before the playoffs.

Back in January, Michigan coach Red Berenson started preaching the importance of playing “playoff hockey” to the Wolverines as a way to try and break them out of their slump. Before this weekend, there’ d been glimpses of this mindset but Michigan still had trouble putting one full game together, let alone two.

Finally, that changed this weekend.

“I think the thing that we took a huge step in this weekend was facing adversity,” said sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli. “(Ohio State) would score a goal and we’d jump right back and score again. In playoffs, there’s going to be adversity and you have to know how to face it, so we’re finally starting to figure that out.”

The most notable improvement for the Wolverines was the lack of a third-period collapse. In addition to better defensive-zone coverage, much of the Wolverines’ success in the final frame of Saturday’s game has to be attributed to freshman goaltender Steve Racine, who held the Buckeyes scoreless.

Without that steadfastness in net and from the forward corps which buried the hatchet on Saturday with three goals, Berenson believes the weekend would’ve had a completely different outcome.

“We saw a little bit of (playoff hockey) but we’re not there yet,” Berenson said. “We played in two close games. If you had to put the whole weekend in perspective, you’d say the third period on Saturday decided the weekend. That was good.

“If we’re going to have any chance of getting to Joe Louis (Arena for the CCHA semifinals), that was a step in the right direction. It was important that we do something on the road.”

THE MANY FACES OF GUPTILL: The Alex Guptill who played this weekend was a far cry from the Alex Guptill who played for the Wolverines a few months ago.

The sophomore forward is coming off two go-ahead goals against the Buckeyes and was named CCHA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday — a complete turnaround for someone who was a healthy scratch in December for having a less-than-desirable work ethic and a poor approach to the game.

“The attitude goes along with your play,” Berenson said. “We’ve been after him to work harder. You can have talent, but you have to work hard and play the whole game.”

As the coach explains, someone like Guptill might play for around 20 minutes a game, but only have possession of the puck for 30 seconds. It’s what a player does with the 19-and-a-half minutes that he doesn’t have the puck that makes him a better hockey player.

“You’ve got to be working in our zone, in their zone … taking care of business and being a complete player,” Berenson said. “That’s what we try to do with all our players. (Guptill) has been challenged this year, and I think he’s getting some of that.”

SINELLI SCORES : Sinelli hasn’t always been a consistent presence in Michigan’s lineup, appearing in just 16 of 32 games.

But Berenson’s gamble to play him in place of senior Lindsay Sparks paid off on Saturday night when Sinelli’s snipe from the circle gave the Wolverines a comfortable two-goal lead over the Buckeyes.

“I think (I just fed) off the energy from everybody,” he said. “My goal was pretty lucky to be honest,” he said. “The goalie just misplayed it, and I was fortunate to get the puck in the net.”