It says a lot about how far the Michigan hockey team has come in the new year that it was left disappointed with a home split this past weekend against arch-rival Ohio State. The Wolverines (11-12-3 overall, 6-8-2 in the Big Ten) edged the Buckeyes (16-9-3, 9-7-2) 3-2 Jan. 31 before falling 4-1 Feb. 1 at Yost Ice Arena. The loss was the first for the Wolverines in 2020.
“You’re not satisfied with a split, that’s for sure,” said Michigan associate head coach Bill Muckalt on ‘Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath.’ “They capitalized on opportunities [in Game 2] and you have to give them credit for that. The one thing that we really liked as a staff was just the resiliency of our group, there’s no quit.
"I think we’ve found an identity of how we’re going to have to play to be successful. That starts with our goaltending and our defense has been rock solid and (sophomore goalie) Strauss Mann gives us a chance to win every night.”
Mann was outstanding once again in the opener, giving up goals only on power plays to Ohio State while saving 25 out of 27 shots faced. It was an important result for a Wolverine side that had come out flat the previous weekend in a 4-1 exhibition home loss to a U-18 USA team.
“For whatever reason, I think we’ve got to look at moving that exhibition game earlier in the season,” Muckalt said. “It hasn’t been kind and I think our players just want to get through it and stay healthy so you can’t really put too much stock into it. We’ve been growing as a team, we’ve been getting better, our compete level is fantastic and it’s all about the execution in the game.
“I think that as far as getting up for it, you could tell Monday at practice two minutes into the first drill that we had reset and were looking forward to the [Ohio State] weekend.”
Despite the loss in Game 2, Michigan has 14 of a possible 18 points in Big Ten action since Jan. 1, and will look to keep its impressive run going at home against Wisconsin this week.
“We’ve got a big weekend here, obviously a big chance to make up some games,” Muckalt said. “It should be a great atmosphere against Wisconsin. We have some ground to make up, there’s no question about that. The standings are really tight, but we just have to focus on the six inches in front of our face.
“Every play matters, it’s one shift at a time, one period at a time, one game at a time. We like our group, the effort’s there and we just have to make sure that we execute on Friday.”