Lehman: Sweep by Kent State pushes UM-Dearborn to brink

Ryan Kelly looks on during  the second period of UM-Dearborn's game vs. Oakland on Jan. 23, 2015. The game was cancelled due to thin ice. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)
Ryan Kelly looks on during the second period of UM-Dearborn’s game vs. Oakland on Jan. 23, 2015. The game was cancelled due to thin ice. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

By ERICK LEHMAN, Staff Columnist

With their backs up against the wall, the University of Michigan-Dearborn ice hockey team could not get it done.

The Wolverines hosted unranked Kent State — team they split with very early in the season — and were swept, dropping Friday’s opener, 9-1, and the finale, 3-2, Saturday.

UM-Dearborn was embarrassed Friday after giving up six goals on 17 shots in the first period alone.

“They were the better team, we just didn’t have it tonight, and it was unfortunate,” head coach Chris Haltinner said after the game. “We took one off the chin tonight, but that’s no excuse.”

An untimely game misconduct on the Wolverines made their short bench even shorter, forcing a defenseman to step in and play forward, opposite of last week’s dilemma.

“After the quick goals, and the penalty, it was just a snowball effect, they just jumped on us,”Haltinner said.

Goaltender Nathan Ferris was pulled just over 11 minutes into the game after giving up the fourth goal of the period, easily his worst showing of the season.

“They came out, they were good, they popped a couple in early on us, and everything from there went down,” Haltinner added.

UM-Dearborn received a gift from the computers Feb. 4 and remained ranked 19th in ACHA Division-1 and still in the national tournament conversation. But the Wolverines were downed yet again Saturday, all but shutting the door on their hopes for a national appearance.

Offense has been the biggest struggle for the Wolverines of late, polar opposite of what this team did to start the season.

They opened the season up with 18 goals on opening weekend and another 15 goals the next weekend.

Since UM-Dearborn’s 10-4 victory over Oakland in the outdoor game Jan. 4, the Wolverines have not scored more than three goals in a single game and have only scored 13 goals in the last eight games combined.

In that stretch, the Wolverines are 1-7.

“You can say it’s because of injuries and all that, but the season is such a grind. We’ve been playing against good teams that have been on fire,” Haltinner said.

“We get chances and they don’t come through for us, bad bounces here and there. For whatever reason it’s just not coming together, but we are getting those chances,” goaltender Dave Bryant added after Friday’s game.

Injuries have been a major factor despite what Haltinner said.

The Wolverines have been without freshman phenom Jeff McFarland since the outdoor game. He was a catalyst for the offense, both scoring and setting teammates up.

On top of the McFarland injury, senior captain Jase Paciocco has been out the last four games due to an MCL injury.

The Kent State series this past weekend may have been the most disappointing series of the season for the Wolverines, but there is one big takeaway the coaches can get from this series.

Heart.

The team, though facing a 6-0 deficit after only one period of play Friday, did not sit back or give up.

Despite only being outshot by four but down by six on the scoreboard, the Wolverines continued to play tough and fight to put up goals.

They may have only scored once, but the Wolverines outshot the Flashes 38-36 and only gave up three goals the rest of the game. The final two goals came in the last two minutes of the game, when the Wolverines went entirely on the offensive.

The coaches have players returning next season determined to win that. And if Haltinner wants to take this team to the next level, those are the types of players he needs on the ice, and those are the types of players he has.

UM-Dearborn will finish off the season at the Fieldhouse this weekend against rival Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines scored nine goals in both games against the Eagles earlier in the season.