Jan. 29, 2014
By Chad Shepard, MGoBlue.com
The No. 12-ranked University of Michigan ice hockey team returns to Yost Ice Arena this weekend (Jan. 31-Feb. 1) to welcome the Wisconsin Badgers for the Wolverines' first home-ice contest in 51 days, the longest stretch between two home games for the program since the 1962-63 season. It will also be the first two-game home series for Michigan since it hosted Michigan Tech (Nov. 1-2).
Michigan's players are excited to return to home ice, but the importance of the second series with the Badgers is not lost.
"It's so much fun playing at Yost in front of our home crowd," senior captain Mac Bennett said. "Everyone's so excited, especially the way the series ended last time we played them. We're really excited for Friday night."
Since the Wolverines hosted Michigan Tech during their most recent two-game homestand, a lot has happened. The team has traveled nearly 3,300 miles, going to and from Omaha, Columbus, Madison, East Lansing and Detroit (three times). Freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort has since doubled his wins total from four to eight. The great state of Michigan has received more than 85 inches of snowfall. The Detroit Red Wings have played more games in Ann Arbor than the Wolverines in the last month (one), as they hosted the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House on New Year's Day.
U-M has played just nine times since the start of December and just six times in the last seven weeks. It has been a strange period of scheduling that the team views as just another part of the season.
"The schedule is what it is. I'm sure the team and the coaching staff would like to have had more weekends here at home," said freshman forward Tyler Motte. "It's tough to get in a groove but I think we're finding it back. The way we're playing right now, we're putting more pucks in the net and playing our game like we did at the beginning of the year."
"There are pros and cons to it," he said, "You get a little bit more time off between games, but it's hard to find that flow. We're finally out of that. We're into a good stretch of our season and I think we started things off right last weekend."
While the Wolverines have endured the long grind of a month and a half on the road, Wisconsin has had a fortunate bit of scheduling during the same stretch, playing a dozen straight games at home in Madison, where they've posted a 10-2 record. U-M was swept by the Badgers when they played at the Kohl Center, losing 5-2 (Jan. 10) and 3-1 (Jan. 11), and the team hasn't forgotten.
"We went in there and didn't really play our best hockey so we're definitely looking to get back at them because they swept us (in Madison)," said Bennett.
Sophomore forward Andrew Copp, who had a goal and an assist in the two game series at Wisconsin, is excited for another chance at the Badgers.
"After what happened up in Madison I think this weekend's going to be a very important weekend," Copp said, "If we are going to have a chance to win a Big Ten championship this needs to be a very good weekend for us."
The return to Yost is a welcome sight on the schedule for players, but the team knows this series is one that Michigan Hockey fans have been looking forward to for weeks. The team expects a raucous crowd of Maize and Blue come Friday.
"I would think that it would be really, really rowdy come Friday night," Bennett said. "If I was a hockey fan I'd be losing my mind, chomping at the bit to get in here. Hopefully that's what we'll see."
The Wolverines will have played four conference series by weekend's end, with another six on the docket. They've already seen Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State several times each.
For the first time, the group is experiencing the rigors of the Big Ten schedule. Players recognize the importance of this weekend in the standings and for momentum's sake.
"Every game is going to be a huge game," Bennett said." All these games are televised and the stakes are definitely higher. It's pretty crazy and every game's a battle. It's something we jump at the chance to have."
Michigan will get its first shot at its second go-round with a conference opponent this weekend. Both games are at 6:30 p.m., and will be televised on the Big Ten Network (Friday, Jan. 31) and NBC Sports Network (Saturday, Feb. 1).