Four players on one tiny penalty-box bench.
It’s safe to say this wasn’t anything close to what the No. 2 Michigan hockey team expected this weekend.
Facing off against the conference’s ninth-place team, the Wolverines wanted a four-point weekend against Northern Michigan with No. 1 Miami (Ohio) waiting in the wings.
Instead, Michigan tied the Wildcats, 3-3, in both contests and its winless streak grew to four games, the team’s worst string of the season.
The Wolverines struggled through a loss and tie against Michigan State last weekend, but they still had an opportunity to reclaim first place in the conference standings with Miami idle for the weekend.
Instead, Michigan gained just two points on the RedHawks and remains one point behind.
The referees handed out 53 penalty minutes, both teams found themselves in countless man-advantage situations that could jumpstart their offense.
Instead, the penalties just slowed the game’s tempo, and the Wolverines’ sixth-ranked power play missed numerous game-changing opportunities, converting at a paltry 12 percent.
Senior Chad Kolarik’s frustration after Friday’s game applied to Saturday’s tie as well.
“We didn’t come prepared,” the alternate captain said. “We were too loose in the locker room. Our team likes to be loose, but not that loose. We took it for granted, and they took it to us.”
Said freshman Max Pacioretty: “We know we should beat that team 10 out of 10 times, and tonight, we came out slow, and it really showed that we weren’t prepared to play.”
Perhaps further distracting the Wolverines, freshman defenseman Kevin Quick was dismissed from the team Friday afternoon for a “total violation of our team trust and rules,” according to Michigan coach Red Berenson.
Michigan came out of the gates stronger Saturday, with more focus, energy and control than Friday. But neither squad could overcome a combined 21 penalties.
In one three-minute span, 23 penalty minutes were handed out, including a 10-minute misconduct on freshman Matt Rust.
The physical tension in the game even overflowed onto the bench. Halfway through the first period, a scuffle between junior Tim Miller and Wildcat Ray Kaunisto in front of Northern Michigan’s bench erupted into an intense shoving battle between Miller and senior Matt Siddall, who was on the bench. The referees issued eight minutes of roughing after the whistle penalties for the rare tussle.
Berenson said he spoke to the freshmen after the game about some of the bad penalties they took.
“The penalties I think for the most part hurt both teams, but they really hurt the home team,” Berenson said. “I’m disappointed we got ourselves two men short, took a misconduct. You can’t do that.”
Despite the penalties, the Wolverines scored just one power-play goal. Sandwiched between freshman Carl Hagelin’s and Kolarik’s goals, center Louie Caporusso’s tally was the game’s lone man-advantage score, a beautiful wrist shot from the center of the right circle.
But after a series like that, which Berenson said during the week would be disappointing if Michigan came away with just one victory, it’s simply time to reload.
“I think we’ll bounce back,” Berenson said. “Our players are resilient and they’ll be refocusing this coming week and we know we got a tough test in Miami. This will be a good test for us. So I don’t know how we’ll match up with them, but I think we’ll play better next weekend.”
As he left the press conference, unprompted, Berenson even confessed, “We have to play better next weekend.”