DETROIT – Senior center A.J. Treais hopes Michigan’s precarious start to the season hasn’t laid the groundwork to what could be a streak-ending roadblock for the Wolverines.
UM holds the national record for consecutive NCAA tournament appearances with 22 straight years. But the streak is in danger, which doesn’t sit well with the 93rd team captain in UM history.
“You obviously don’t want to be the captain, that leader of the team, that doesn’t make it,” Treais said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time, but it’s definitely in the back of our minds.”
For the 5-8-2 Wolverines to salvage their season, they’ll need to quickly turn around their fortunes, beginning with a pair of games against No. 7 ranked Western Michigan this Friday and Saturday at Yost Arena.
“I think it starts this weekend, it’s a make or break weekend,” said Treais, who for eight years honed his hockey skills in the Little Caesars program. “We’re 5-8 right now and if we sweep we’re closer to .500 and if we get swept it will be a tougher road.”
This weekend’s games with WMU are Michigan’s final contests leading up to the Great Lakes Invitational, Dec. 29-30, at Joe Louis Arena. The annual two-day tourney begins with a pair of semifinal matches pitting the two-time defending tourney champion Wolverines against Michigan Tech at 7 p.m., preceded by the Michigan State-Western Michigan semi at 3:30 p.m.
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The Wolverines have won 15 GLI titles, including four in the last five seasons, since the tournament’s inception in 1965.
The championship game is scheduled for Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.
Returning to The Joe, Treais said, brings back very special memories of playing for former Little Caesars coach Mike Brown, and winning state and national championships in 2004.
“I grew up playing for Little Caesars so that I was home rink,” Treais said. “All my best friends were on the team; Jake Chelios was on that team. We weren’t necessarily the best team, but we found a way to win states and nationals in Pittsburgh, which was pretty exciting.”
More recently, the GLI has allowed Treais to soak in the atmosphere of playing before crowds much larger than college players are accustom.
“Every time we play State, The Joe is always packed and all sold out,” Treais said. “It’s almost like you’re playing in a pro environment. It’s really exciting, especially being a Michigan kid and someone that was always a Red Wings’ fan and playing in that venue that packed with people watching the teams that you grew up watching.”
|A.J. Treais |
While it’s always fun to return to downtown Detroit, Treais knows what’s at skate since the Wolverines have one regulation win in the past seven games, dimming their chances of securing an at large spot in the NCAA tournament. UM will more than likely need to win the CCHA tournament to advance to the national tourney for a 23rd straight year.
“Obviously the second half of the season, when (Jacob) Trouba gets back and the GLI is over, that’s when Michigan teams have made their run for titles and tournament hopes,” Treais said. “We’re going to have to make a run this season, but I think it starts this weekend.”
Trouba is UM’s 6-foot-2 freshman defenseman, who will likely join Team USA for the second straight year at the World Junior Championship later this month in Russia. Trouba, who is fourth in team-scoring with four goals and six assists, was invited to the U.S. camp and will miss the GLI games.
At 5-foot-7, Treais may be small but his energy level and skill leads the Wolverines – is tied for fifth in the nation – with 10 goals this season. He also paces UM with five assists for 15 points.
“For me, it’s about getting pucks to the net,” said Treais, who’s five goals shy of his career-high, which he set last season. “In years past I’ve been the one that’s been taking up shots and making the extra passes. This year, and even last year, I’ve been working on getting pucks to the net.”
During the team’s tailspin, coach Red Berenson has juggled his line combinations looking for consistency from the offense. Last week, Treais was matched with senior forwards Kevin Lynch and Lindsay Sparks for the first time this season.
It’s too early to predict the trio’s success, but Treais said his linemates are all on the same page.
“We’ve only played a week together, but we’re all seniors and we know that we have to do our jobs,” he said. “Obviously with our record, I think we all know that we have to step up, and we work well together as a unit.”
That teamwork will be necessary if Michigan’s to hurdle any potential roadblock.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose