As Michigan State captain Drew Miller skated into the corner after a loose puck in Saturday night’s third period at Yost Ice Arena, Michigan defenseman Tim Cook was hot on his tail. When Miller reached for the puck, Cook checked him into the boards and looked up the ice to join the play. But as soon as his teammates touched the puck, the whistle blew and Cook’s night was done.
Cook was penalized for checking from behind and headed to the box in disbelief. When he had just about arrived, Cook was floored by more bad news. Referee Mark Wilkins escorted him off the ice after assessing him a five minute major penalty and a game disqualification per the CCHA’s increasingly strict rules initiative. The disqualification will prevent the junior from skating in Friday night’s game in Fairbanks.
Cook is the third Michigan skater to be removed from a game for checking from behind this year, but the first to receive a game disqualification rather than a game misconduct. According to the NCAA rule book, the distinction between a disqualification and misconduct is that, when receiving a game disqualification, you must sit out the next game on your first offense, the next two after your second, three after your third and so on. There is no suspension after a game misconduct.
Three Michigan players have been ejected during this year’s first five games: Cook, junior Jason Dest and senior captain Andrew Ebbett. Last season, the Wolverines received just two misconducts in 42 games. Ebbett said the Wolverines are just learning the ropes of the tighter officiating.
“It’s not just the freshmen, it’s all of us that need to get used to the way they call the game,” he said several days before his game misconduct against Boston College on Oct. 14. “As the season goes on, we’ll have a better idea of what will get called and adjust.”
Leading by example: Ebbett was named a captain of this year’s squad for his work ethic – an asset that was displayed as clearly as ever on Saturday night. During the early stages of the first period, the Wolverines came out flat. Passes that normally go tape-to-tape were off-target, and sloppy defensive play led to a Michigan State goal just four minutes into the game.
Ebbett realized that his team needed a boost, and he found a way to provide it when he put a puck past Michigan State goaltender Dominic Vicari from the slot. After a shuffle in front of the Spartan net, the puck squirted out between the circles and Ebbett pounced on it. According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, this is just one of many examples of Ebbett’s leadership.
“Ebbett’s a great example because he’s not the biggest guy on the team or the fastest,” Berenson said. “He doesn’t have the hardest shot, but he works the hardest. He’s smart, he knows the game, and he anticipates well.”
Perhaps Ebbett’s finest moment came on a Michigan penalty kill in the first period. Once Michigan State’s defensemen were backed into the corner behind their net, Ebbett skated with them and poked the puck around, trapping them behind their own goal line for more than thirty seconds, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
“(Pressuring them while on the penalty kill) is something we have tried,” Ebbett said. “Last year against these guys, we did that a couple of times, and that’s something that the coaches had talked about before the game. I just got the chance and held it down there to see what I could do. Their defense went back kind of nonchalantly, and it helped kill off a few minutes of the penalty.”
Still No. 1?: When Michigan began last season as No. 1 in the college hockey polls, they lost that distinction in the first weekend when they were defeated by Northeastern. Although they tied the Spartans on Saturday they will likely remain atop the polls this week.
No. 2 Cornell has yet to play and opens their season this Friday against Michigan State. No. 3 Ohio State beat Bowling Green on Thursday and tied them on Friday. Though none of the top-10 lost, Michigan’s tie with No. 10 Michigan State will likely allow it to remain in the top spot heading into next weekend’s series at No. 19 Alaska Fairbanks. The rankings come out today.