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January 23, 2013

Michigan focuses on playing playoff hockey

With 10 games left to play in the CCHA regular season, Michigan doesn't have a realistic chance of winning the league title, nor does U-M have a chance to earn an NCAA at-large bid, but it can salvage its season with a CCHA Tournament championship.

"It was my freshman year where we were on the NCAA bubble and we made a run at the right time," senior forward Kevin Lynch said. "We need to get hot at the right time again.

"Anything can happen in the CCHA Tournament, and we know that, but we're not just going to be able to turn it on, and that's Coach's message. We have to start playing playoff hockey right now, and get into this mindset that every shift matters.

"We also have to understand that we don't get any trades or free agents. If we're going to turn this thing around, we'll do it with the guys we have in the locker room, and if we believe in each other, hopefully we'll get out of this funk and win a lot of games."

Head coach Red Berenson is an eternal optimist and never wants to concede a race, but he admitted Tuesday the Wolverines cannot expect to finish first or second in the CCHA - with 19 points, they trail the top two teams by 14 - however, a top-five finish, and a first-round conference tournament bye are possibilities.

"We have 10 games left. That's 30 points out there, and if we don't get half of those points, we won't make it," he said. "We have to play way over .500 hockey and then we'll have a chance."

Michigan sits in ninth place with 19 points, and is nine points out of the fifth spot. That may seem like too many to overcome for a program that has limped to a 5-11-2 league mark and is just 1-4-0 in January, but middling foes just like U-M have gotten hot enough lately - Alaska is 4-0-1 in its last five and Bowling Green is 5-1-1 in its last six - to believe that the Wolverines have a streak in them also.

"We have to make our move in the standings, and that starts with making our move on the ice," Berenson said. "We're trying to get into a playoff attitude now. We're not cruising into the final weeks of the season. We're clawing our way in and that's how we have to approach it. Not that we have a switch, but there is an emphasis on intensity and tenacity, and work ethic, and then building some confidence."

The Maize and Blue split at Lake Superior State over the weekend, winning the opener 6-4 before dropping a 3-2 decision on Saturday, but Berenson said it was the best back-to-back games U-M has played all year, and the players believe they have something to build on.

"We would have loved to get both wins, and we need to start getting both wins coming up, but one win was great, and the way we played was more encouraging than anything else," junior forward Luke Moffatt said.

Michigan heads to Kalamazoo this weekend for a pair of games at Western Michigan. The Broncos are 3-1-2 in their last six contests. Ideally, U-M would earn a sweep, but the Wolverines are focused on baby steps presently. If they can come out of the series with a victory and a sense that they played two solid games, they'll take it as they gear up for the postseason.

"We have to play really well in the CCHA Tournament and fight for the win there," Moffatt said. "It's all about peaking at the right time."







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