SOUTH BEND — Minutes before freshman forward Alex Guptill would classify the No. 7 Notre Dame hockey team’s play on Saturday as “dirty,” Michigan coach Red Berenson had to stop himself from saying the same.
The Fighting Irish’s apparent game plan — harassment of fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick — left the coach reaching for the right words.
“They play an overly — I don’t know if it’s overly physical, but some people would say it’s — you know, there’s — I’m not going to say it. But yeah, it’s physical hockey,” Berenson said.
Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello skated to the penalty box a little over a minute into the Wolverines’ opening game against the Fighting Irish on Friday.He served two minutes for goaltender interference after knocking Hunwick over in open ice.
For the remaining hour and 59 minutes of the series, different iterations of the same scene played out constantly. Hunwick was knocked over, snowed, taunted, bumped and, once, even penalized.
In the first game of the series split it worked. No. 7 Notre Dame took the opener, 3-1, before No. 10 Michigan salvaged the split with a 2-1 decision on Saturday.
“I think they played a really dirty game, I’m going to be honest,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill on Saturday. “It was dirty; it was a mean series. You had to be playing tough out there to get any kind of ice.”
Senior forward Luke Glendening emphasized that the series was particularly intense because of the strength and style of each team. Hunwick received extra attention, but players from both sides hit hard and often, combining for a total of 58 penalty minutes.
In the first period of the opener, scrums broke out after nearly every whistle, especially around Michigan’s goal. The referees had to call both team captains together after the opening frame to calm the tempers.
Berenson wouldn’t comment on Notre Dame’s strategy toward Hunwick, other than saying he hoped it wasn’t their strategy at all.
“I hope it’s not,” Berenson said. “We don’t do that to another goalie. We go to the net, but we don’t run into the goalie or we’re not spraying snow on him or whatever.”
Notre Dame got to the net often. The Irish scored a goal in each of the first two periods to take a 2-0 lead on Friday. The Wolverines couldn’t recover despite a power-play goal by Guptill in the third period.
Notre Dame applied even more pressure in the second game. In fact, Berenson said he thought the Irish were the better team in their losing effort in the finale, though he thought Michigan had more chances in its loss in the opener.
Despite the Irish’s physical defense, the Wolverines made a startling discovery in South Bend — their power-play unit is in fact allowed to score goals. Like, even multiple times.
In Saturday’s game, the Wolverines scored twice in the first period, both with the man advantage. All three Michigan goals in the series came on the power play, despite not converting on the advantage since the finale of the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30.
More than halfway through the first period on Saturday, Guptill tallied his second goal of the series when he deflected a shot from senior forward Greg Pateryn out of the air and into the net. He scored on a similar deflection on Friday.
With under a minute remaining in the period, junior forward A.J. Treais fired a wrister from the bottom of the circle to give Michigan a two-goal advantage.
The Irish threatened for the remainder of the game and kept much of the action in Michigan’s defensive zone.
Hunwick allowed a goal early in the second period, but stopped the rest to finish the victory with 38 saves.
For his part, Hunwick said he enjoyed the intensity and trash-talking of the series. Of all the players in postgame interviews, Hunwick seemed the least angered by the weekend’s physicality. And, as he explained, he likes to talk, too.
“I’m 5-foot-6, and they’re some pretty big guys,” Hunwick said. “I’d probably do the same thing.”
Hunwick also elaborated on some of the things he heard from the Irish.
“Call me a midget, nothing I haven’t heard since sixth grade. Some pretty funny stuff, nothing too bad.”
Glendening was pleased with the way Hunwick, for the most part, kept a level head.
“It takes a big man to do that,” Glendening said, then added with a laugh, “Not in that sense. But yeah, it takes a big man to do that.”