By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 4, 2011
FAIRBANKS — Apparently, the members of the No. 19 Michigan hockey team have teeth.
For the past few weeks, you wouldn’t know it. For one, they’re hockey players, so the whole teeth thing is always in doubt. But mostly, they just haven’t had anything to smirk about for the past month.
On Saturday, the Wolverines could smile, and they did.
“This was the weekend,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Good for this team, especially with our backs against the wall, like we have had lately. And they gotta feel great.”
Fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick said the seven-game winless streak — the Wolverines’ longest in more than a decade — weighed heavily on the team.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve won a game,” Hunwick said. “We really needed (the victory). You start to doubt yourself, you start to forget how it feels to win.”
The tension left Berenson’s voice for the first time in nearly a month. Remember, remember the fifth of November? That was the last time Michigan had won a game before Saturday.
Berenson let out a contented sigh just before he started answering questions. The rest of the team seemed to collectively exhale as well.
A few feet away from Berenson, junior forward A.J. Treais happily signed autographs for a handful of Alaskan Wolverines fans. Fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick chatted before taking questions. Freshman forward Alex Guptill, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Saturday, kept bringing up streaks. But this time, he wasn’t talking about losing.
“We were getting really down there,” Guptill said. “We just weren’t sure we could win. It was a really long streak, but it’s over now, and now we know what it feels like to win, and I think we can go on a real streak now — winning.”
Mostly, the players just looked relieved.
“The team’s really light now,” Guptill said. “I think it took us 17 hours to get here, so I can only imagine 17 long hours after another sweep and eight (winless games) in a row. That would’ve been brutal.”
A few Michigan personnel patted each other on the back and exchanged different versions of the same message: Finally.
Finally, a bounce that went the Wolverines’ way. Guptill’s goal actually deflected off of a Nanook defender and into the net.
Finally, a happy locker room.
And finally, the defense stepped up. After surrendering 20 goals in the previous four games, the defense earned the victory to snap the streak.
“It’s huge for the defense,” Hunwick said. “We weren’t turning the puck over. In recent weeks we’ve been turning it over a little bit too much.”
Hunwick credited his defense with clearing out the middle of the ice so Hunwick could have a better view of shots from the point. Alaska generates much of its offense from shots from the blue line.
Clearing the center of the ice also limited deflection opportunities and chances to score on rebounds. Rebound goals plagued Michigan the entire winless streak.
The penalty-kill unit smothered the Alaska power play, stopping all eight of their opportunities on the weekend.
The defense let just four shots through on four power-play opportunities on Saturday and kept the Nanooks out both during and after the man advantage.
The Wolverines rode Hunwick to the win. He came up with huge saves late in the game, especially during a two-minute Nanook power play at the end of regulation.
“(Hunwick is) like our team,” Berenson said. “We had a lot of pressure on us and a little bit of self doubt and so on. Sooner or later we were going to get out of it, but the sooner part is better.”