Just as the Germans failed to learn from Napoleon”s mistakes when they attacked Russia during the winter of 1942, the Michigan hockey team failed to learn from its mistakes from the winter of 2000.
Last year, Michigan trounced Alaska-Fairbanks 8-0 on Friday night of a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena only to lose 5-2 on Saturday night. The Wolverines should have understood the danger of underestimating the Nanooks after a big win at home, and they should have known the visitors would be hungry for a win the next night.
“We have to take tonight with a grain of salt and they have to build on that for tomorrow night,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after Friday night”s 7-0 shutout, seemingly reminding everyone of last year”s homestand against Alaska-Fairbanks.
Michigan was not able to retain that intensity Saturday when it experienced deja vu. After a dominant performance Friday night, the Wolverines looked ill-prepared and haphazard in a 3-1 loss.
“(We were a) little bit overconfident on our part, (and they had been) embarrassed on their part,” Berenson said. “That was the difference, but I didn”t see our team as hungry (Saturday night) and their team was hungrier.”
Senior Craig Murray got the Wolverines on the board Saturday night when he skated in with the puck from the blue line, beating two defenseman and slipping the puck through the pads of the Nanooks” backup goaltender, Lance Mayes. For a moment, fans at Yost were expecting Michigan to take control of the game and finish off Alaska-Fairbanks for the weekend sweep.
But unlike Friday, the Nanooks would not collapse after giving up the first goal. Instead, they answered Michigan”s goal less than a minute later when Murray was stripped of the puck at the Michigan blue line. Alaska-Fairbanks forward Tom Herman was hit with a centering pass which he one-timed past Josh Blackburn.
The goal was the first allowed by Blackburn on the weekend and the first he had given up in more than 130 minutes of action. The Nanooks seemed to gain the confidence they needed, stripping Michigan of much-needed momentum.
“We had been on a streak where we had been fairly successful and I think we had a false sense of where we were at,” said Alaska-Fairbanks assistant coach Travis MacMillan. “I think some guys thought they could show up, put their skates on and perform (last night). And that”s not the way life works. But tonight, they came out onto the ice with the attitude that they were going to work hard and that was the biggest difference.”
Michigan was not able to regain momentum after three strong penalty kills early in the second period and remained unfocused on the ice. The Wolverines played with their heads down all night and failed to make the crisp passes that led to success on Friday.
“I thought our passing was horrendous,” lamented Berenson after Saturday night”s loss. “When you”re not sharp it shows up in your passing. We gave the puck away so many times. That”s part of the game when you”re not playing well it”s poor passing, poor shooting, poor execution.”
With less than four minutes remaining in the second period, Alaska-Fairbanks took its first lead of the weekend. Senior captain Bobby Andrews jammed a loose puck through Blackburn during a scrum in front of the net.
The goal gave the Nanooks a 2-1 lead and allowed them to ice the puck and play a trapping system throughout the third period.
Michigan”s best chance to tie the game came with five minutes remaining in the third period when forward Mike Cammalleri turned a 3-on-1 against Michigan into a breakaway going the other direction. Often in the past, this is where Cammalleri would provide the needed goal for Michigan. But Mayes made a pad save when Cammalleri tried backhanding the puck past him.
With 25 seconds left, Herman cleared the puck from his blueline into the empty Michigan net sending the Alaska-Fairbanks bench into a frenzy.
“I just think we were a step tentative tonight,” Berenson said. “We weren”t as aggressive, we weren”t as abrasive, and we weren”t on a mission. We were expecting the game to be easier than it was.”