After blasting 57 shots on Northern Michigan goaltender Craig Kowalski on Friday night, the Michigan hockey team looked to storm into yesterday’s rematch and picked up where it left off. But a scary moment kept the Wolverines distracted for much of the first period.
Assistant coach Billy Powers collapsed shortly before the game and had to be taken to the hospital. Powers turned out to be fine and was released from the hospital last night.
The players had trouble staying focused on the game, registering just two shots on goal in the first period.
“I think it upset our team tremendously at the start of the game,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “We’re trying to get our team prepared and focused and all of a sudden something like that happens and everyone’s (wondering), ‘What happened? What’s going on?’ and we couldn’t tell them anything until the game was over.”
During the first intermission, the team regained its composure and took control of the game and the weekend. Michigan (3-1 CCHA, 6-1 overall) swept Northern Michigan (2-2, 3-3) 5-3 yesterday and 2-0 Friday night.
The struggling Michigan powerplay managed to notch a goal in each period yesterday. It had been desperate to take advantage of the extra man in this young season. The difference yesterday was the team’s ability to work the puck around the offensive zone for long periods of time, wearing down the Northern Michigan penalty kill.
Early in the third period, sophomore Andrew Ebbett won a faceoff to the right of Kowalski and fed the puck forward to junior Michael Woodford, who skated behind the net and found classmate Eric Werner hugging the left goalpost. Rather than shoot from a tough angle, Werner made a clean pass across the mouth of the goal to Ebbett, who notched his second goal of the game.
“We just kept it simple,” Ebbett said. “We haven’t been excelling (on the powerplay) lately, so we’ve been working in practice and it’s started to come through.”
Juniors Eric Nystrom and David Moss added tallies on the man advantage, the first multiple powerplay goal game since the Wolverines took on Mercyhurst opening weekend.
But trying to score even-strength goals proved to be a difficult task, as the Wildcats kept grinding Michigan’s forwards all weekend. Despite the high number of shots in both games (34 yesterday and 57 on Friday), quality scoring chances were few and far between.
“That was a pretty physical team,” Ebbett said. “I think that’s something their coach puts into their team, to make sure they grind you out in the corners, and you just have to battle.”
As a result, most of the goals Michigan got past Kowalski were typically second chances and broken plays. Using screens – by having multiple players crash the net after firing a shot on goal – seemed to be the only way to light the lamp.
“A lot of goals are rebounds, deflections, loose pucks and the odd good play,” Berenson said. “Werner made a great play to Ebbett on (his second) goal, and that was probably our cleanest goal of the game. The rest of them were deflections and that type of goal.”
On the other end of the ice, the Michigan defense was beginning to come together and clamp down on opponents. After surrendering nine goals to Miami two weeks ago and six to Quinnipiac last weekend, the Wolverines pitched the first shutout of the season on Friday, as goaltender Al Montoya turned aside all 19 shots. He stopped 24 of 26 shots last night.
Montoya had been consistently improving down the stretch last season, and was expected to pick up where he left off. But to start the year, he had been inconsistent at best. He gave up six goals to Miami on Oct. 10 and was pulled in the third period. But Friday’s shutout gave him some much-needed confidence.
“I feel I played pretty well,” Montoya said. “Coming off the last couple weeks, I just wanted to get back in the groove of things. I started to get rolling and feeling good.”
With the sweep, the sixth-ranked Wolverines now move into a tie for first in the CCHA with Ohio State and Miami. The Wolverine take a break from conference play next Saturday with a contest against Niagara on Saturday.