COLUMBUS — All week long, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson stressed how the Wolverines wouldn’t stand much of a chance in their weekend series with Ohio State if they couldn’t get their goals-against average down.
Though three goals Saturday were still more than Michigan would’ve liked to give up, it found compensation from the forwards, who led the Wolverines to a 6-3 win over Ohio State and secured the team’s first road sweep of the season.
“You’re not going to win many games giving up three (goals),” Berenson said. “Somehow, we found a way to score against a team that doesn’t normally give up goals against. The puck went in for us (and) we had some good plays. We’ll take that.”
The first period brought on a slew of goals from both sides, and it was Michigan’s penalty-kill unit that faltered first. The Buckeyes quickly capitalized on a man advantage with a wrister from the slot to beat freshman netminder Steve Racine glove side 30 seconds into the power play.
But the Wolverines recovered quickly, and about 20 seconds later, freshman forward Andrew Copp found twine from right in front of the crease. Then Ohio State graced Michigan with an easy scoring chance after a poor defensive turnover put the puck right at freshman forward Justin Selman’s stick.
Down 2-1, the Buckeyes scored again quickly after. Racine was screened and never had a chance to see an Ohio State slapshot rocketed from the point, knotting the game at two to end the first period.
The Wolverines continued to ride their special teams in the second frame. Just seconds after a Michigan power play expired, sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe scored on a lucky bounce that sneaked past Buckeye goaltender Brady Hjelle. As before, though, the Wolverines couldn’t hold on to the lead for more than a couple of minutes, and Racine let in a soft glove-side goal to tie the game at three.
But whereas the first period was distinguished by goal after goal, there was a scoring drought during the latter half of the second period.
Though they didn’t find twine again, the Buckeyes rode the momentum from their last goal, as play stayed in Michigan’s zone for most of the second half of the period. Ohio State had several grade-A scoring chances while the Wolverines struggled to maintain possession for any extended period of time. Racine came up with some big saves several times, though, to stop the odd-man rushes and breakaways that characterized the Buckeyes in the second frame.
Though both teams remained even-keeled to start the final period, Michigan was ultimately the one to break the offensive stalemate six minutes in, when Hjelle missed a backhand dangle from sophomore forward Alex Guptill. And sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli sniped from the right circle to finally give Michigan a little more breathing room with a two-goal lead — and an empty netter from Di Giuseppe minutes later was just a bonus.
For a team that’s suffered its fair share of end-of-game collapses, keeping a lead and shutting out the Buckeyes during the final frame constituted one of the best periods of hockey Michigan has played all season. Much of that success was due, in part, to the defensive mindset all of the Wolverines adopted.
“I think our forwards played better, not only offensively, but defensively,” Guptill said. “That’s something we’re going to continue working on, the defensive side of it, and hopefully the offense will keep coming.”
With this first road sweep (over their rivals on their senior night, no less) it was little wonder the team skated off the ice as quickly as possible at the end of the game to rush to sing ‘The Victors’ in the locker room.
“That’s probably the best weekend of Michigan hockey we’ve had all year,” Berenson said. “(It was) a lot of little things. Our overall team, it felt like everybody was having a better weekend. Had to be a good feeling to be a player on that team.”