Through the first two months of its season, the Michigan hockey team lacked a signature characteristic of most Red Berenson-coached teams: sound defensive hockey.
But according to sophomore alternate captain Luke Glendening, the Wolverines in their sweep of the 17th-annual College Hockey Showcase might have finally found that missing component this weekend.
“That has been our goal all year but we haven’t really done it yet,” Glendening said of playing strong defense. “This weekend, we started to do it, and it showed up on the scoreboard.”
It showed with a 3-2 victory over Wisconsin and a 6-0 drubbing of Minnesota, which sealed Michigan’s sixth Showcase sweep in program history.
On Saturday night, Michigan (7-7) slipped past an underachieving Wisconsin team, that Berenson said may have been the Wolverines’ toughest opponent all year.
With the score tied at one late in the second period, Glendening corralled the puck off a face-off in the Badger zone and lifted a nifty wrist shot underneath the crossbar to give Michigan the lead heading into the final stanza.
The Wolverines got the game-winning tally midway through the third period from junior center Louie Caporusso, who received a pass from freshman A.J. Treais at the right side of the crease and deposited the puck in the net.
Michigan held on down the stretch by minimizing Wisconsin’s (8-5-1) odd-man rushes and playing strong man-to-man coverage in the defensive zone.
“They were really good, and we were on our heels on and off during the game,” Berenson said. “The fact that if we keep our goals against down, we will be in these games. … But that was a grinding game tonight.
“That was a man’s game. It was in-the-trenches type of hockey, and we survived it.”
The previous night’s 6-0 victory against the Golden Gophers wasn’t as much of a fight for survival. Five different players scored, and junior left wing Carl Hagelin notched two goals.
Hagelin scored his second goal off a small but significant play that epitomized the team’s play against Minnesota and Wisconsin. Seven minutes into the final frame, on the penalty kill, junior Matt Rust blocked a Gopher defenseman’s shot.
Rust then grabbed the loose puck near the Wolverines’ bench and dished it to a streaking Hagelin, who beat the Minnesota (5-8-1) defense down the ice. He then threw a backhand five-hole on netminder Alex Kangas.
While Rust’s play didn’t necessarily show up as a substantial statistic at the end of the game, it was reflective of the Wolverines’ commitment to the defensive side of the red line.
Forwards backchecking with a purpose, defensemen clearing out loose rebounds in front of junior goaltender Bryan Hogan and players sacrificing their bodies are all telltale signs of a defensive-minded team.
“We’re very close (to playing Michigan hockey),” Glendening said. “We’re headed in the right direction. We just need to keep building and not become complacent.”