Two of my observations this week come from a single post-game press conference.
1. Red Berenson thinks that this Michigan team has potential — as in postseason potential.
The Michigan coach never said as much outright, but the way he talked about his squad after the Wolverines completed their sweep of the Badgers Saturday evening said everything that wasn’t articulated. While Berenson called the team “a work in progress,” he also said, “We’ve had some really good moments and then some not-so-good moments, but I think you can just see it getting better month to month. Penalty killing has been a concern. It’s getting better as well. The power play can be dangerous. It certainly looked like an old-time Michigan hockey team.”
An “old-time Michigan hockey team” is code for a team that can pour the puck into the net — and that’s what this team has the potential to do. The Wolverines scored eight goals against Wisconsin, turning up the heat in Saturday’s win with three third-period tallies. The Wolverines are averaging 3.97 goals per game — down from the four-plus they were scoring for weeks on end, but still top in the country — and if Michigan gets the goaltending it needs, the team will indeed be dangerous. That power play, incidentally, is third-best (25.2 percent) in the nation.
More than anything, it’s the look in Berenson’s eye when he talks about old-time Michigan hockey that is intriguing. He’s a man who believes.
2. Mike Eaves is feeling a little bit like a broken record.
Don’t believe me? Ask him. “It’s like a broken record and they’ve heard it many times before. We just didn’t go out and execute.”
That’s what Eaves said after Wisconsin was swept by the Wolverines. It’s not just that Eaves was conveying to the press — which consisted of Wisconsin State Journal reporter Andy Baggot and me — that he and his coaching staff have delivered the same message repeatedly to the Badgers, but that Eaves feels as though he’s answering the same questions over and over and over again about the team, after nearly every game. It was a palpable frustration from a man whose program won the first-ever Big Ten playoff championship a season ago, a team that now sits in the cellar of league standings.
The Badgers didn’t play poorly and they’re certainly improved from where they were in the first half of the season, but Wisconsin is still making rookie mistakes — for lack of a better phrase — when possessing the puck. Leaving goaltender Joel Rumpel out in the cold doesn’t help them, either.
3. The Big Ten Tournament is anyone’s game — still.
After Minnesota split with Michigan State and Ohio State swept Penn State, it should be pretty clear that the tournament in Joe Louis Arena just shy of three weeks away can go to anyone in this league. Yes. Even Wisconsin. My money’s still on Michigan State.
And a bonus observation.
The renovations to Yost Ice Arena are stunning. All of the technical updates to the arena are impressive, but the crowning jewel is the highlighting of the architecture itself. Exposing the arched windows after they’d been bricked up for decades was one of the smartest decisions the university made. I brought someone to his first game at Yost Saturday afternoon, and he stopped dead in his proverbial tracks when he walked in and saw the place, light filtering in through the windows.