En route to a 4-1 loss to Michigan State, the Michigan penalty-killing unit didn’t just look shorthanded in the Great Lakes Invitational championship game Dec. 30 – it appeared to be missing all of its appendages.

The Wolverines gave up three power-play goals on six opportunities.

But the New Year has thus far produced a newfound commitment to solid penalty killing. In last week’s three games, the Wolverines killed 17-of-18 opponent power plays.

“We focused a lot on it because it’s been such a weak part in the last few weeks,” sophomore Danny Fardig said. “We’ve been working hard in practice and then really bearing down when it comes to the games.”

Many power-play goals Michigan allowed during the first half of the season were on second and third rebound chances.

Aside from quickly clearing pucks from around the crease, attacking the point men and blocking shots proved crucial to Michigan’s improved penalty kill.

Forcing turnovers at the blue line gives Michigan’s short-handed unit the chance for odd-man rushes and goals, as it did in Friday night’s 5-2 win over Northern Michigan.

Michigan has an advantage in its forwards’ ability to kill penalties, even top scorers like senior T.J. Hensick and junior Kevin Porter can do the job.

The duo, which often teams up for both power-play and even-strength tallies, showed its offensive skill working a perfect give-and-go for a short-handed goal to put Michigan up, 4-0 in Friday’s contest.

“(Short-handed goals) are huge,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “When you have players like Porter, T.J., (sophomore Andrew) Cogliano, and (junior Chad) Kolarik on the ice, it’s definitely a possibility. Because when they get the puck, they might attack you.”

Ciraulo thrill-o: Anthony Ciraulo didn’t just step onto the Yost Arena ice; the freshman’s journey onto the Maize and Blue roster and even into a game was longer than most.

“Ciraulo has come in the hard way,” Berenson said. “He’s had to wait his turn to even play in a game. We weren’t sure whether he could even play in a game the way he started off (in practice).”

After being scratched in each game for the first two months, Ciraulo suffered a shoulder injury in November.

It wasn’t until Jason Bailey’s departure to the Ontario Hockey League on Dec. 19 that the door opened for Ciraulo to suit up consistently for the Wolverines.

Ciraulo has been impressive as the fourth-line center, and on Friday night his resilience paid off with his first career goal.

Midway through the first period, Ciraulo deflected a shot from fellow freshman Steve Kampfer through Northern Michigan goalie Bill Zaniboni’s five-hole to give the Wolverines a two-goal lead. When the public address announcer informed the crowd it was Ciraulo’s first career goal, they responded with the night’s loudest ovation.

“It definitely feels great,” Ciraulo said of finally lighting the lamp. “It boosts your confidence a lot and gets you to that comfort level you want to be at.”

7-11 closed: It’s a given in any game that either Hensick or Porter, Michigan’s top two scorers, will register a point. Even more likely, both will make the stat sheet.

One or the other has scored a point in all but two games this season. The two exceptions: Michigan’s 4-1 GLI loss to Michigan State and Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Northern Michigan.

While the Wolverines need scoring from all four lines if they hope to make a run to the Frozen Four, Berenson knows how important the production of his top players will be from now on.

“The second half of the season will come down to our top players,” Berenson said early last week. “They’ll be the difference.”

Saturday, the coach’s prophecy certainly rang true.

Conference props: Two Wolverines were named CCHA player of the week in their respective positions after last week’s games.

Sophomore goalie Billy Sauer garnered his second Goaltender of the Week honor of the season and senior Jason Dest earned his first career Defenseman of the Week award.

Sauer earned his first shutout against Bowling Green and had a .954 save percentage in three games.

Dest recorded four assists on the weekend and helped bolster a defense that allowed just four goals in three games.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.