BY MIKE KILLBREATH
CCN Executive Editor
ANN ARBOR (CCN) — Coach Mel Pearson went back to the practice rink in Ann Arbor Monday with many already forgetting all about last month when Big 10 Conference media members picked his Michigan Wolverines to finish next-to-last. That's because the Associated Press has them one vote out of cracking the top 25 in its second weekly national rankings.
The AP poll is produced by USCHO.com which consists of 50 voters, including 28 coaches from the Division I conferences and 22 beat writers and sports professionals from across the country. UM picked up votes for the first time Monday morning to finish one spot behind No. 25 Northern Michigan. The Wolverines were ignored in the pre-season poll and again after the opening weekend of action in both the AP and USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine poll. The USA Today / USA Hockey Magazine poll is is conducted each week in conjunction with the American Hockey Coaches Association (ACHA) in a voting that includes input from coaches and journalists representing each of the five NCAA Division I ice hockey conferences, as well as composite votes from officers of the AHCA and USA Hockey Magazine.
Clarkston University improved to No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 10 in the USA Today poll by beating the Wolverines 3-1 Saturday night in Ann Arbor after battling them to a 1-1 tie there Friday on opening night. A strong showing by UM was impressive to the pollsters since the Golden Knights are coming off a 22-10-2 season that included winning the Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey tournament for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Clarkston was No. 11 in both pre-season polls that ignored Coach Pearson's Wolverines who are just two seasons removed from making it all the way to the NCAA Frozen Four before losing to Notre Dame on a goal with only six seconds remaining. UM slumped to a 13-16-7 record last season after going 22–15–3 in Pearson's first season behind the bench when making it to the Frozen Four.
Coach Pearson was upbeat afterward, telling the Michigan Daily that he feels his team out-played Clarkston in both games this past weekend, saying, " We had all the momentum. But it’s a bounce or a break here. They won the game but I can’t tell you that they’re the better team. I thought we played well and they got some bounces and some goaltending. But I feel good about a lot of things going on in the program.” The fantastic goaltending was supplied by sophomore Strauss Mann. He had 26 saves Saturday after a 30-save performance in Friday's opener when not needed during the overtime period as the Wolverines poured it on and out-shot the Golden Knights by a 4-0 margin. UM had a strong start on Friday, too, with a pair of early near goals in the opening four minutes. Senior Jacob Hayburst, a graduate transfer from RPI, ripped a wrist shot off the post for UM and junior forward Dakota Raabe barely missed on a backdoor feed before Clarkston goalie Frank Marotte got tough thereafter, surrendering only the single tally to Van Wyhe.
Senior Nick Pastujov, who scored UM's only goal in Saturday's loss, told the Michigan Daily he thinks more goals will be coming soon for the Wolverines. “I think over time, we are going to get more comfortable with ourselves and you’ll see a lot more goals,” he said. Sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg told the Michigan Daily: “We’ve just gotta get pucks on net and shoot for rebounds. I think the rest will come.” Sophomore Garrett Van Wyhe produced UM's only goal on opening night in the 1-1 tie against Clarkston when out-shooting the Golden Knights by a 35-31 margin. UM then out-shot Clarkston again on Saturday night by a 37-29 count. This was after putting up 58 shots in an 8-2 romp over the University of Windsor during the previous weekend in an exhibition game at Yost Arena.
Blankenburg also had big praise for the play of goalie Mann, saying, “He was unbelievable this weekend. The first three goals (Saturday), he didn’t have much of a chance on those. He’s keeping us in these games and he’s been great for us.”
The Wolverines were also short-handed on Saturday. Freshman defenseman Cam York was out with a lower body injury while junior forwards Michael Pastujov and Jack Becker were also out of the line-up as both were nursing minor injuries.
Michigan now hosts Lake Superior State this weekend before a home-and-home series next weekend against Western Michigan to complete its non-conference tune-ups for Big 10 Conference play. The Wolverines open Big 10 action on Nov. 1-2 in Columbus against defending regular season champion Ohio State. Both of their upcoming non-conference series will feature strong competition. Lake Superior State gave No. 2 ranked Denver all it wanted this past weekend while Western Michigan is ranked 15th by AP and 14th by USA Today after a 5-2 victory over Bowling Green followed a 2-2 tie on opening night against Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who won 3-1 over RPI after opening with the 2-2 tie in Toledo against WMU's Broncos in the Ice Breaker Tournament, were ranked No. 13 by AP and No. 12 by USA Today in Monday's polls.
UM's games on Friday and Saturday at Yost Arena will have 7:30 pm starting times this weekend. The Lakers lost twice this past weekend to No. 2 ranked Denver (3-1 and 4-3) after opening with a pair of victories over Merrimack College in North Andover, Maine. The Wolverines host Western Michigan at 7:30 pm on Oct. 25 before going to Kalamazoo on Oct. 26.
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