Michigan shouldn’t be a ranked team right now. And after Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Cornell at The Frozen Apple at Madison Square Garden, odds are pretty good that, despite its reputation, it won’t be any more come next week.
The No. 19 Wolverines have struggled this season and struggled against the No. 13 Big Red, who ended Michigan’s 2011-12 campaign in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This time, Cornell (4-3-2) just looked stronger and faster at the World’s Most Famous Arena as they took it to the Wolverines (5-7-1), who had snapped a three-game losing streak Wednesday night with a win against Bowling Green.
Michigan had some chances on Saturday in Manhattan, but when they did, it was Cornell goaltender Andy Iles turning them away. The Ithaca native made 26 stops in his 45th straight start as Cornell got two goals and an assist from senior forward Greg Miller in winning its first game at MSG in three tries.
The Big Red, which has eight NHL draftees among their ranks, ousted the Wolverines in OT in the NCAA Midwest Regional last spring. Saturday’s game wasn’t nearly that close.
Michigan is breaking in new goaltenders this fall, true, but goaltending isn’t the root of all the Maize and Blue’s problems. The Wolverines looked slow against Cornell, and Michigan is usually a pretty good skating team. And even though they outshot the Big Red, Michigan also seemed to have some trouble offensively, at least in finishing, for a team that has piled up goals in bunches in the past two decades.
The UM defense has been vulnerable this year, having now surrendered four or more goals in a game no less than seven times, including a 7-2 loss at rival Michigan State on Nov. 10.
In short, this year’s squad doesn’t look like a typical Michigan Wolverines team. Not yet.
That doesn’t mean their streak of 22 consecutive NCAA Division I Tournament berths is in jeopardy—not in late November. Michigan has gotten off to slow starts before and actually had to keep its NCAA streak alive in 2010 by winning all six games it played in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament that year to gain the conference’s automatic NCAA berth.
The Wolverines also got off to a 7-8-2 start last season after coming within an overtime goal of the 2011 national title—but then went on a nine-game unbeaten string en route to a second-place regular-season finish in the CCHA.
Michigan has time to right the ship this season, starting with a pair of games at 2012 national runner-up Ferris State next weekend. The Wolverines have 11 NHL draft choices on their roster, and head coach Red Berenson, now in his 29th season, has seen every kind of adversity at least twice in his long career.
Odds are the Wolverines will start winning again and will be a threat to claim the final CCHA title.
They just shouldn’t be ranked come Monday morning.