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Zach Helfand: Let's not talk about terrible officiating

Jed Moch/Daily
Michigan coach Red Berenson made it clear that he didn’t want to discuss the CCHA officials’ performance in the Michigan-Miami (Ohio) series at Yost Ice Arena. Buy this photo

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 5, 2012

Red Berenson stepped to the microphone following the No. 7 Michigan hockey team’s sweep of No. 18 Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, and before he even sat down, stated flatly, “Don’t ask me about the officiating.”

Berenson then spent some of the remaining 3:56 of the press conference saying things like this:

“You shouldn’t have to kill that many penalties in a game like that.”

Or, he was explaining that the violence at the game’s conclusion was inevitable because of “the way the game was being handled.”

Then, about Miami coach Enrico Blasi: “The score was out of reach — that stuff shouldn’t happen. There’s no fighting in college hockey, let’s face it. If you want to have a fight, go out in the parking lot after the games.”

Despite forbidding any questions on the matter, that Berenson spent much of his time speaking about officiating and taking shots at Blasi (after a dominating sweep, no less) says quite a lot.

Referees Brian Hill and Keith Sergott lost control of the game, Blasi lost control of his players, and Michigan was the team getting penalized.

For those keeping track at home, yes Keith Sergott is that Keith Sergott, the one who presided a particularly touchy and physical Michigan-Notre Dame series two weeks ago.

So, in honor of Berenson and in the spirit of reticence, I too ask that you not question me about the officiating.

I’m not going to say anything about junior Chris Brown’s fight at the end of the game, except to say that it was the product of Michigan’s newfound intensity and emotion.

Also, please don’t ask me about the following:

Whether the officials allowed Miami to take runs at senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick on Friday night. I won’t answer that.

Or whether any of the three hits on Friday that knocked Hunwick on his back and into the goal should’ve warranted a major penalty. Nuh-uh, my lips are sealed.

Nor about the rule that stipulates that Brown will be suspended for the opening game of the CCHA series against Michigan State, while his fellow combatant Will Weber will serve out his suspension in an ostensibly meaningless non-conference tilt next weekend. Mum's the word.

To be clear, I’m not accusing the officials of one-sidedness, and I don’t think Miami gained any sort of edge from their calls. Their no-goal call on a borderline Miami goal, one that they had to review twice, left Blasi furious.

Rather, the officials’ mishandling of more than a few situations created an atmosphere where retribution was inevitable. I’m talking about situations like Curtis McKenzie’s hit on Hunwick that sent his helmet flying and left the goalie down on the ice for nearly a minute.

McKenzie got a minor penalty on the play, but so did senior defenseman Greg Pateryn, and the game continued as if the play didn't happen.

This has happened before.

“We’ll keep sending the information to the league, but the league hasn’t responded,” Berenson said. “I don’t know that they’ve done a good job of it so far.”

Of course, the officials wouldn't have had to deal with any of this had Blasi controlled his team, so let's take this time to not talk about the grudge between Berenson and Blasi.

When speaking about the Wolverines’ struggles against the RedHawks on Thursday, Berenson looked like a man preparing for a root canal. As the questions continued, Berenson finally saw fit to mention Blasi’s record at Yost Ice Arena (3-13 at the time, 3-15 now).

Still, Berenson had only one win in his past eight games against Miami entering the series, and that probably gnawed at him. As he walked into his office after answering questions, Berenson stopped, looked back, and said “this series isn’t about Miami. It’s about Michigan.”

Berenson’s been doing this coaching thing for a little while now, and it turns out, he was right.

Michigan took it to Miami.

In the teams’ first meeting, Miami physically dominated Michigan in the opening minutes and set the tone for the whole series.

Not so at Yost. The Wolverines outworked, outskated and outskilled the RedHawks. Players who didn’t even register a point, such as sophomore forward Derek DeBlois, dove to knock away loose pucks. The penalty kill was suffocating. Skill players, like junior forward A.J. Treais and Brown, played selfishly — in a good way. They showed the confidence to score, where earlier they had been timid.

Michigan played with the emotion to match what Hunwick described as a playoff atmosphere. That emotion started with Berenson. (And yes, it ended with the ejection of Pateryn and the suspension of Brown, but you know enough by now to not ask me about the officiating.)

On the other end of the emotional spectrum was Miami, displaying what Berenson described as frustration after the game got out of reach.

And the RedHawks were certainly frustrated. After Friday’s game, a loud thud emanated from the Miami locker room — somebody had just thrown something, and hard.

A security guard walked away a few moments later, his shift over, and said, “you did not want to go in there.”

After Friday’s game, Blasi promised that his team’s behavior would improve. We all know how that turned out.

Berenson had some choice words for Blasi’s inability to control his players after Saturday’s game.

“A smart coach knows how important his players are and they have to stay in the game, and when a team has a nonconference weekend the next weekend, they might take liberties,” Berenson said. “We’re the ones that are going to pay for it.”

The loss of Brown shouldn’t matter if Michigan brings the same intensity they played with this weekend. The Wolverines are probably the most talented team in the CCHA, and the best, too, if they play with emotion.

Of course, that should be irrelevant.

Miami and Blasi ran up a big tab of transgressions this weekend.

And they stuck Michigan with the bill.

Helfand never dines and dashes. He can be reached at zhelfand@umich.edu or on Twitter @zhelfand