KALAMAZOO – The Michigan defense was a shadow of its former self.

Clinging to a one-goal lead with more than six minutes left in the game, the pieces of a formerly staunch Wolverine backline could be seen scattered throughout Lawson Ice Arena.

Jason Dest and Jack Johnson wore suits and watched the proceedings with their faces pressed up against the glass by the tunnel to the locker room.

Chris Summers sat in the penalty box serving a high-sticking minor.

With three of its six starting defensemen stationed on the wrong side of the boards, Michigan was forced to scramble in the hopes of protecting its slim advantage against relentless Western Michigan pressure and a rabid home crowd that began its “Let’s go Broncos” chants 30 minutes before the puck dropped.

Add freshman goalie Steve Jakiel in his first career start to the mix, and it seemed inevitable that the game would slip away.

But somehow, someway, Michigan held. With defensemen taking short shifts to stay rested, the Wolverines held on for a 6-5 win and were able to breath a collective sigh of relief after salvaging a split in the home-and-home series with the Broncos.

“Even though we lost Jack Johnson and Jason Dest for the third period, I thought our guys really dug in and played hard,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.

How depleted were the Wolverines? When the night started, the visitors’ bench was as crowded as the state penitentiary. By the time the game reached its climax, the remaining eight players on the Michigan bench had all the room of the presidential suite at the Ritz.

Senior Tim Cook, who had been penciled into the lineup as a forward, returned to defense for the second and third periods.

It was lucky enough that Cook could even skate after struggling with back spasms all week. It was even more fortunate that he has the talent and experience to step in at defense whenever necessary.

“It was kind of hectic for the first little bit,” freshman defenseman Steve Kampfer said. “That was a big help with (Cook) in the lineup, coming back and giving us an extra defenseman. With all the guys dropping (out) it was a big help.”

A night after they admittedly took a mediocre Bronco squad “too lightly” in a 6-3 loss, the Wolverines came out fast, getting on the board less than three minutes into the game.

But unlike previous games when a fast start has led to runaway Michigan victories, the Broncos held tough and their physical style of play wore down the Wolverines.

Western Michigan, which seemed to skate a bit harder on Saturday after winning its first game in Ann Arbor since 1995 the previous night, scored the game’s next three goals and led 3-1 with five minutes remaining in the second period.

Maybe it was fitting that, on a night when the Wolverines were perpetually short-handed, it was a man-down goal that turned the tide.

In a turn of events befitting the game’s frenetic flow, Michigan (8-3-0 CCHA, 12-5-0 overall) seized the momentum just when the Broncos should have put the game away.

After suppressing sustained Western Michigan power-play pressure, seniors T.J. Hensick and David Rohlfs had a 2-on-1 counter-attack. Hensick slid the puck across ice to Rohlfs, who patiently moved the puck to his backhand before depositing it past Bronco goalie Riley Gill for the short-handed tally.

The assist was one of Hensick’s career-high four on the evening.

Before Western Michigan could blink, the Wolverines had added two more goals, both on the power play, and turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead heading into the second intermission.

“The power play definitely gave us a spark,” Berenson said. “They got a spark in the game and then it was anyone’s game.”

The Broncos (5-7-1, 6-7-1) tied the score early in the third period when junior Jeff Pierce deflected a point shot past Jakiel.

Unwilling to be swept by the Broncos for the first time in two decades, Michigan stormed back with sophomores Brandon Naurato and Andrew Cogliano scoring goals less than a minute apart.

Cogliano’s goal, the eventual game-winner, was his second of the game and fifth on the weekend.

On a night where so many factors seemed to go against Michigan, Hensick summed up the result, simply saying with a shrug, “We found a way.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.