Five for ’15: More on Michigan

by Ben Gotz

Michigan head coach Red Berenson didn’t give complicated answers after his team’s two losses over the weekend.

After Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Gophers he said “we weren’t very good, and they were really good.”

He followed it up Saturday by saying “One thing we’ve been able to do this year is score goals but we couldn’t tonight.”

The answers likely weren’t complicated because the reality wasn’t either. The Gophers were the better team over the weekend, letting the Mariucci crowd know the team’s mid-season struggles could soon be firmly in the rearview mirror.

A  second-straight home sweep for the Gophers bumped them up to No. 13 in the PairWise rankings, as well as a tie for first place in the Big Ten. There are hurdles still to clear and mountains still to climb, but the Gophers don’t look like they plan on falling off anytime soon.

Here are five other extra points over the weekend after the Gophers reached the circle for the second straight weekend.

1. Lettieri “A Little Dizzy" After Blocking Shot

One of the scariest moments of the weekend came in the third period, when for the second time this season sophomore forward Vinni Lettieri had a shot hit his helmet.

Lettieri went down to the ice immediately, and took off his helmet and gloves right away before grabbing his head. Lettieri was later escorted off the ice by teammates Justin Kloos and Ryan Collins, and then escorted back to the locker room by the team’s training staff.

Lettieri walked past the media after the game, saying he was “a little dizzy.” He had a bandage by his right ear but seemed in pretty good spirits.

Head coach Don Lucia also gave an update after the game.

“He was in the locker room, he seemed pretty good after the game,” Lucia said. “Hopefully he’ll be able come back and play next week.”

The Gophers had another injury come up Friday when senior forward Christian Isackson left the game early with a contusion. The Gophers listed freshman defenseman Jack Glover as an extra skater Saturday in case Isackson couldn’t play, but he was ruled good-to-go and Glover was a late scratch.

“We knew it wasn’t anything that was serious but was he going to be in a position to play?” Lucia said. “But he seemed a little bit better today, this morning and then he was able to get through warmups fine.”

2. Gophers Game Plan

After Saturday’s game, senior forward Seth Ambroz gave some insight on how the Gophers were able to hold the top-ranked offense in the nation to two goals in two games.

“We did the little things right,” Ambroz said. We got pucks in deep, tried playing behind their D all night and I think that’s where we had some success. We were also really good about keeping a third guy high so they weren’t getting the odd man rushes because we know that they’re really good off the rush. We did a really good job of rush sorting and communicating.”

Another key for the team, according to junior defenseman Mike Reilly after Friday’s game, was cutting down on turnovers.

“They feed off turnovers, and I think we did well tonight at not turning the puck over too much and letting odd-man rushes up,” Reilly said. “We got ourselves into trouble a few weeks ago at Yost making those turnovers so obviously we wanted to managed the puck well  and we were able to do that and not let up too many grade-A chances.”

3. Senior Line Steps Up Again

When Michigan’s top line of sophomore Alex Kile , freshman Dylan Larkin and senior Zach Hyman hit the ice, Lucia often matched up with the Gophers senior line of Ambroz, Travis Boyd and Sam Warning.

It was a tall test for the seniors, with Larkin entering the weekend third in the Big Ten in points and Hyman first with 37. But during the series the Wolverines’ top line scored no five-on-five goals and their highest plus/minus total of the weekend was 0 for Hyman on Friday.

“I thought Boyd’s line was huge,” Lucia said. “The way they played all weekend long against Larkin.”

The three seniors scored 10 points combined in last weekend’s 6-2 win over Ohio State, which earned them a story in Thursday’s paper (shameless plug alert!) but their efforts this weekend were impressive against a quality opponent, just not as flashy.

“We all like a challenge,” Ambroz said. “Obviously they’ve got some great players, great scorers.”

4. Late Start Leads to Less Offense

After plenty of scoring in Friday’s game, the follow-up Saturday was a bit of an offensive letdown.

According to Lucia, part of it might have to do with Friday’s late 8 p.m. start time.

“I think some of last night’s game, the minutes guys played took a little out of both teams,” Lucia said. “You’re playing a late game, doesn’t start until 8 o’clock, you probably don’t go to bed until 2 o’clock in the morning, get to sleep. When you have to play at that tempo it does take some gas out of the tank.”

5. Rau Reinvents Himself

For most of Rau’s first 149 career points as a Gopher, he made his living about two feet from opposing nets.

But Friday night against the Wolverines, Rau showed his offensive game has a much bigger range. His shorthanded goal and final goal of the night both came from shots by the middle of the circle, and his first goal off the power play was near the net but still needed some elevation.

“I don’t know the last time I scored off the ice,” Rau said. “Pretty cool, three of them.”