When Northern Michigan goaltender Craig Kowalski headed to the bench after Michigan made the score 4-0 early in the second period Saturday night, he didn’t just have to deal with the embarrassment of giving up four goals in 23 minutes.

J. Brady McCollough
(Above) Fans get final looks at Northern Michigan goalie Craig Kowalski before he was pulled in the third period. (Below) Northern Michigan senior Bryce Cockburn said goodbye to Yost by getting ejected.

The junior also had to withstand a verbal assault from the Wolverines.

“He definitely heard it when he got pulled, that’s for sure,” Michigan sophomore Milan Gajic said. “I know I was one of the guys that was (jawing at him).”

The way they see it, Gajic and his teammates were just giving Kowalski a little of his own medicine.

In December, the Wildcats swept Michigan in two games in Marquette, and Kowalski was the first star of one of the games. Afterward, he made comments to the media to the tune of Michigan being overrated. That may have been a mistake, as the Wolverines apparently have excellent long-term memory. They used Kowalski’s comments for a little extra motivation this weekend.

“We had it on our little board out there; we had it highlighted,” David Moss said. “So we definitely remembered what he said.”

Before this weekend, Kowalski had led Northern Michigan to five straight victories against Michigan, including two shutouts at Yost Ice Arena. But he had little to talk about after this weekend. Before the Wildcats lost 5-1 Saturday, Kowalski gave up two goals to Dwight Helminen in the third period Friday. That killed the momentum Northern Michigan had started to build in what had been a close game.

Michigan freshman Al Montoya answered Kowalski’s December performance, allowing just two goals on the weekend.

“This was Al’s weekend,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Good for him.”

Recent matchups between the teams have been goaltenders’ games. Berenson pointed out that Friday’s game was 1-0 going into the third period and “both goalies were holding their team in there.”

Balancing act: After making a big impact in their rookie year, the points haven’t come quite so easily this season for Michigan’s sophomore forwards. This weekend, they re-emerged.

Helminen and Eric Nystrom took care of the offense Friday night, netting all three of the Wolverines’ goals between them.

Gajic and Moss followed that with two goals each Saturday. Gajic was slumping for much of the season – five goals in his last 22 games – but has four goals in his last four games. His centerman, Moss, who has quietly been an offensive force for the Wolverines this season, also registered an assist and now ranks second on the team in scoring.

The increased production from the sophomores has given Michigan a more balanced scoring attack than it has had all season. Three of the Wolverines’ four lines produced points Saturday night, and 13 Wolverines earned points on the weekend.

“I think our team is starting to play the way they can play,” Berenson said. “I like what I’m seeing – more and more players being involved.

“I really like the contribution we’re getting from our top players right down through our lineup.”

Not-so-fond farewell: While officials took several minutes to sort out penalties after a scrum in the second period Saturday, the Michigan crowd passed the time by saluting Northern Michigan’s captain, Bryce Cockburn.

The senior is a favorite target every time the Wildcats come to Yost, and fans brought out all the stops for his final visit. Some made him signs, and after Northern Michigan scored in the third period, students even shouted, “MRS. COCKBURN.” He received more abuse when he was thrown out of the game in the third period.

The fans don’t seem to care that the forward and his mother actually pronounce their name Coe-burn.

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