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February 22, 2013

Hockey has one more chance to develop road confidence

You wouldn't have known from watching Wednesday's practice shootout the Wolverines are 10-18-2 and were swept in their most recent series. In a lost season that has had more than its fair share of disappointments, the Maize and Blue still found reason to celebrate.

"It's a fun thing to do and all the guys love it," said sophomore forward Alex Guptill. "It takes a little bit of pressure off of us."

Head coach Red Berenson was at center ice, tapping his stick in "applause" after a great deke or a terrific save, and the players reveled in being able to enjoy a brief moment before they shifted their focus to a matchup with Ohio State this weekend.

With it looking more and more likely that Michigan will open the CCHA playoffs on the road - U-M sits six points out of home-ice positioning with four games to go - the Wolverines know they must develop some confidence away from Yost Ice Arena. No easy task considering the Maize and Blue are a dreadful 1-8-2 in opponents' barns this season.

"If we're going to do anything in the playoffs, we're going to play on the road at some point, whether it's right away or later, so let's do something now to get some momentum," Berenson said.

"That's our goal, to come away with some confidence, starting on Friday night. You want to play well, and feel like you deserve to have a chance to win on the road, because if we get outplayed and steal a game that's one thing, but you're not going to steal a playoff series on the road. You have to go in and deserve it."

Michigan hasn't been on the road for a first-round CCHA postseason series since 1988, when it fell in three games to Western Michigan, but the Wolverines can't worry about their playoff seeding right now - they simply need to get a win under their belt after losing 7-4 and 6-4 to Notre Dame the last time out (Feb. 8-9).

In OSU, the Maize and Blue meet a foe 5-1-2 in its last eight games, and one battling to finish among the top four teams in the conference; Ohio State is presently tied for fourth with Ferris State (but has two games in hand over the Bulldogs) as the Buckeyes vie to host a quarterfinal playoff series March 15-17.

For Michigan to win this weekend, it has to clean up its defensive-zone play and stop pucks that should be stopped. The former is a complete team effort but the latter resides on U-M's goalies. Freshmen Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge, and junior Adam Janecyk, have not been the answer so don't be surprised if redshirt sophomore walk-on Luke Dwyer gets a chance to start his first career game.

"We're taking him on the trip for a reason," Berenson said. "If he gets to play, good, but we'll see.

"He looks fine in practice. Not out of place. We didn't pay much attention to him for a long stretch because he hurt his collarbone and early in the year we gave the ball to the two freshmen. They played all the games until Janecyk came in in the middle of December, and by then Luke was out of the loop with his injury.

"Since he's now a candidate, he's back in the mix, he's not out of the place, and it's given him a life to realize he's not just practicing - he's practicing to have a chance to start or play."

Whatever happens in net, Michigan has to return to Ann Arbor with some spring in its step. The Wolverines can't keep relying on Wednesday shootouts alone for high-fives.

"There is a lot of good spirit in the locker room and a lot of belief that our season is not over with, and that we can be a better team," Berenson said. "We haven't had many glimpses of fun but there is a little more confidence in the locker room that maybe we haven't seen enough of."


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