When the No. 3 Michigan hockey team entered the third period of its game against Western Michigan tied on Saturday night, there was a feeling of déjà vu.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Wolverines were in the exact same position. The game was tied 2-2 entering the third stanza, with both teams desperately searching for a way to come out on top.
Michigan (3-2-1 CCHA, 7-2-1 overall) couldn’t find an avenue on Friday, falling to the fourth-ranked Broncos, 3-2. But Saturday, Michigan rectified its problems and salvaged the weekend with a resounding 5-2 win — with help from some unfamiliar faces.
“Our team came out tight,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson of Saturday’s game. “We played better (defense), with a little more sense of urgency. We’re just trying to pay more attention to details.”
After losing in the final 30 seconds on Friday, Michigan changed the trend the next night when sophomore forward Derek DeBlois found a rebound that clanked off the post and scored for the Wolverines midway through the first period.
Michigan’s goal went unanswered for the remainder of the first stanza — the only other good look the Broncos had was saved by fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick just as the buzzer signaled the end of the period.
But what Western Michigan (4-1-1, 6-1-1) couldn’t find in the first period, it made up for very quickly in the second. The Broncos’ equalizer was followed by another goal 10 minutes later.
The deficit was what the Wolverines needed to jump-start their game. And once it was wired, Michigan kept cruising at a comfortable speed, with help from a previously quiet source — the power play.
Freshman forward Alex Guptill started the trend for the Wolverines when he scored after the Broncos took a holding penalty, and sophomore defenseman Mac Bennett followed suit in the third period.
The power play has not always been reliable for Michigan, but any questions regarding the effectiveness of the unit have been put to rest, at least for the time being.
“I think we just worked harder to get to the loose pucks,” said Guptill. “On that one goal Mac Bennett scored, we chased hard, had pressure. It’s little plays like that which end up in the goals.”
The power play goals put Michigan up by one. But the insurance the Wolverines needed to put away the game came from junior forward A.J. Treais in the third period.
Junior forward Kevin Lynch had a clear shot on goal. But instead, he took the puck behind the net and patiently waited for Treais, who was skating up towards the crease. A quick dish from Lynch was all Treais needed to tuck the puck in the corner of the net.
Lynch’s empty-net goal with two minutes left in the game rounded out Michigan’s scoring for the night. But what impressed Berenson wasn’t the number of goals scored, but where the scoring came from.
Lynch replaced sophomore forward Luke Moffatt to skate with Treais and freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe. Treais and Di Giuseppe compose two-thirds of the Wolverines’ most productive line. It seems like whenever Berenson wants a player to rack up some points, he puts them with the duo.
It worked for Lynch this weekend, who doubled his season’s points in Saturday’s game.
“I just felt a little better with Lynch up there,” Berenson said. “I think it was good for our team. We needed a change. That line struggled (Friday) night.”
That line wasn’t the only one that struggled on Friday — most of the Wolverines played sluggishly. Once again, Michigan spent too much time in the penalty box. Though the Broncos didn’t score on any of its seven power play opportunities, the offensive momentum was huge for Western Michigan, as it kept the puck in its offensive zone for most of the game.
As the game wound down and the Broncos scored, Michigan couldn’t find any opportunities for an equalizer.
That’s why Berenson decided to change all of the forward lines for Saturday.
The swap wasn’t just beneficial for Lynch, who saw more action on Saturday than he has all season — DeBlois, Guptill and sophomore defenseman Kevin Clare, who have all been towards the lower end of Michigan’s point tally, were impact players over the course of the weekend. And that’s comforting for the Wolverines.
“(Having lots of people score) has been huge this year,” Guptill said. “Everyone’s been chipping in, it’s huge like that. (A) more balanced offense is good because you can’t just shut down one line.”