- Vicky Liu/Daily
By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 22, 2014
Senior defenseman Mac Bennett lay on the ice, clutching his shoulder with all of Yost Ice Arena silent and holding its collective breath.
The No. 10 Michigan hockey team was already reeling after its defense surrendered a two-goal lead in a 5-4 overtime loss the night before to the worst team in the Big Ten, Penn State.
But rather than sulk without their captain, the Wolverines held the Nittany Lions to 20 shots in a 5-2 victory for a weekend split. With the win, Michigan sits in sole possession of third place in the conference and remains five points behind second place Wisconsin.
Freshman forward Alex Kile and junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe each scored two goals to lead the way, while freshman forward Tyler Motte added a goal and an assist.
“I like the way our team responded tonight,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I thought we were a different team tonight.”
Nearly six minutes into the game, Bennett skated near the boards with his head down, and Penn State’s David Glen dropped his shoulder in a clean hit that sent him flying. Bennett didn’t return in the game due to an upper-body injury, according to a Michigan spokesperson.
Berenson said after the game that Bennett had been transported to the hospital for X-rays as a precautionary measure in case of a fracture, but his status otherwise remains unknown.
“It’s tough seeing him go down,” said senior forward Derek DeBlois. “But different guys have to step up, and I think we did a good job (responding).”
Nearly two minutes after Bennett’s injury, the Wolverines relieved some of the pressure when junior forward Zach Hyman took a loose puck in his own zone down to the other end of the ice for an easy feed from behind the net to an open Motte, who tipped in the goal.
Forward turned defenseman turned forward again, Andrew Sinelli saw six minutes in his original position before he was shifted back to defenseman for the rest of the night in place of Bennett. After allowing the Nittany Lions to fire 44 shots the night before, Michigan’s defense prevented a potent offense from ever getting good looks.
“I think we played harder on the man, harder on the puck,” Berenson said. “We got pucks deep, we played more in their zone, and we blocked more shots in our zone.”
It helped that Penn State was called for three consecutive penalties in the second period and four altogether, preventing it from finding a rhythm and having enough men forward to apply pressure.
Sophomore goaltender Steve Racine, making his first start in net of the weekend received plenty of insurance in the second period.
“(The defense) played unbelievable tonight,” Racine said. “We knew we had to be better defensively, and they really stepped up tonight.”
Kile scored on a deflection seven minutes into the frame after he was denied on a shot moments earlier. Di Giuseppe tallied midway through the period to capitalize on a penalty for his second goal of the weekend after scoring only one in the previous 16 games.
Kile tacked on his second later in the third on one of several Penn State defensive breakdowns. The goals were Kile’s second and third of the year after he was held scoreless since Nov. 22 against Niagara.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Kile said with a grin across his face. “I got put in this position and I needed to produce.”
The freshman was placed on a line with DeBlois and freshman forward JT Compher in place of junior forward Alex Guptill. Berenson said Guptill was a healthy scratch, citing his failure to play well defensively Friday night.
The Nittany Lions got two goals back in the final five minutes of the game. The first came on a breakaway attempt from Curtis Loik and the second on a shot from Taylor Holstrom that took an awkward bounce off the skate of freshman defenseman Michael Downing.
But Di Giuseppe added an empty-netter to put the game away to inspire confidence and relief after Michigan looked threatened and deflated two periods earlier with the loss of Bennett.