In a weekend that was going to make or break the Michigan hockey team”s season, the Wolverines finally did what they hadn”t been able to do.
They responded at home.
Michigan came back from two one-goal deficits to sweep Nebraska-Omaha, 2-1 and 6-3. It was the Wolverines” first regular season series sweep of this year at home.
Because of Michigan State”s loss to Notre Dame Saturday night, the Wolverines are now tied with the Spartans for first in the CCHA.
“For the most part we played disciplined,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It was good to see some players step up and put the puck in the net. The powerplay obviously was a factor, and so was the penalty killing. It was a big weekend for Michigan.”
The first few minutes of Saturday night”s contest mimicked Friday night”s win. The Wolverines struggled to find their offensive rhythm and allowed a goal just 3:33 into the game. But that did not phase the Wolverines, as they immediately turned around and unleashed their wrath on the Mavericks.
At 8:15, captain Jed Ortmeyer scored on the powerplay. At 8:47, freshman Milan Gajic put the Wolverines up 2-1. At 10:32, senior Jay Vancik scored on a 2-on-1 breakaway to make it 3-1, and Gajic struck again at 13:30 for a three-goal lead.
“I honestly can”t remember what happened,” Gajic said. “They just started going in left and right. It was just working. I don”t think (Mavericks goaltender Dan) Ellis had a chance on any of them.”
Said Ortmeyer: “When guys are jumping into the play and things are going into the net, it”s like pond hockey. You just have fun.”
It was just the second time this season Michigan had scored four goals in a single period. Following the fourth goal, Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp immediately called timeout to get his team under control.
“I called the timeout because I wanted to tell the guys to keep playing the way that we were playing,” Kemp said. “Even though we were down, we were playing aggressive and hard.”
The timeout seemed to settle the Mavericks, as they fought back with a short-handed goal at the end of the first by Jeff Hoggan and an even-strength goal by Greg Zanon in the second to pull within one.
“I was proud of the way our team fought back in the second period,” Kemp said.
But, the Mavericks” efforts would be in vain, as an early third-period goal by Ortmeyer (his second of the night) put the game on ice. The junior skated in along the boards and uncorked a slapshot from a difficult angle that somehow found the net.
“Ortmeyer continues to be a leader for us,” Berenson said. “I don”t think there was a better player all weekend.”
Friday night, freshman Dwight Helminen became the first Michigan player to solve Ellis (who had a scoreless streak of more than 212 minutes coming into the weekend). The speedy forward, who had just jumped off the bench for a line change, beat Ellis up high with a sharp wristshot. Then after a scoreless third, freshman Eric Nystrom once again stuck it to the Mavericks in overtime.
The last time the two teams met, Nystrom scored 12 seconds into overtime to give Michigan the 4-3 win. Friday night, Nystrom scored 39 seconds into overtime to give Michigan a 2-1 win.
For Michigan, a team that had been concerned about home-ice confidence coming into the weekend, a sweep was just the right medicine.
“We needed to have back-to-back games at home where we could walk out of here and feel good about the whole weekend,” Berenson said.
Said Ortmeyer: “Hopefully this is a weekend that we can turn the corner. We”ve got to learn how to play at home, especially if we get an opportunity to play in the NCAAs because (the West Regional is) going to be here. We had some guys step up that needed to step up. It was a good team effort.”