AUBURN HILLS – Louie Caporusso has plenty to be excited about.
Two game-clinching, fist-pump-preceding goals can make for a pretty memorable weekend.
The Wolverines won 3-2 Friday and 5-1 Saturday. Michigan is off to its best start in the program’s 85-year history: 22-2.
At first, Friday’s game looked like it would have anything but a storybook ending.
The Fighting Irish clearly dominated the first period of the match, jumping all over the top-ranked Wolverines to the tune of two goals and a myriad of scoring chances. Notre Dame was also stout on defense, limiting Michigan to just nine shots on goal.
That left 40 minutes for the Wolverines to complete the most exciting, dramatic comeback of the season – and they needed every one of those 40 to do it.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Caporusso, found a rebounded shot from forward Brandon Naurato and poked it past goaltender Jordan Pearce. The lamp lit with just 20.3 seconds showing on the scoreboard as Caporusso crashed headlong into the boards, surrounded by a massive pile of maize-and-blue-clad celebrators.
The Yost Ice Arena crowd went berserk, igniting in chants of, “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine,” as the last seconds ticked away.
“I think if we would’ve got off to a better start, we wouldn’t have had to end it like that, even though it was exciting.” Caporusso said of the white-knuckled third period. “It was definitely one of the biggest goals of my career.”
But Michigan almost didn’t have a chance to notch the game-winner.
With 17 minutes left, sophomore Chris Summers took a five-minute major and a game-misconduct for checking from behind. With the Irish offensive pressure on full tilt, the Wolverines struggled to clear the puck, defending their own zone for almost the entire five minutes with very few line changes.
The Michigan defense methodically blocked shot after shot, killing each minute with increasing ease.
“There’s the game right there,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “You get a five-minute penalty and have to kill it. And it’s not like they weren’t in our zone, they spent most of the time in our zone. (Our guys) couldn’t get off the ice. But we killed it.”
Saturday night’s contest at the Palace of Auburn Hills was, well, a little less exhilarating. The third period was all but a formality, as Caporusso’s slapshot goal in the second frame gave the Wolverines a two-goal lead they never relinquished.
Junior goalie Billy Sauer said a sweep against the Irish felt good, especially because Notre Dame brought the brooms out against Michigan (15-1 CCHA, 22-2 overall) last year en route to a CCHA regular-season title.
“It’s great,” Sauer said about the sweep. “(Notre Dame) is a team that I obviously don’t care too much for. We’ve gotten a lot of criticism lately for maybe not playing the hardest teams. So when we play a team like this, a good opponent, coming out with two wins is a good feeling.”
Notre Dame (11-6-1, 18-9-1) was widely considered to be Michigan’s biggest conference test yet this season. With four games against No. 7 Michigan State and two at No. 2 Miami (Ohio) still looming, the Wolverines’ four conference points this weekend should have ramifications in the final CCHA standings.
“When you look at the schedule, Notre Dame doesn’t have a top-four team to play the rest of the year. We’re it for them, and then after that it’s clear sailing,” Berenson said. “So this is huge for them, and it’s huge for Michigan.”