Coach Red Berenson hoped he could energize two of his struggling
marquee juniors — Dwight Helminen and Eric Nystrom — by
making them linesmates more than a month ago. At the end of
Saturday night’s 7-1 thrashing of the Buckeyes, all 6,859
fans at Yost Ice Arena knew the move was a success.

Kate Green
DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily
Michigan goaltender Al Montoya, fresh off a gold-medal winning performance for the United States in the World Junior Championships, sends a message to Ohio State forward Daymen Bencharski.

It took Helminen just 48 seconds in Saturday’s contest
with the Buckeyes to begin his scoring campaign, which didn’t
stop until he had scored a career-high four goals. Nystrom
electrified the crowd in a different way — with a heavyweight
title bout against Ohio State’s Nate Guenin in the second
period. This came one night after the Wolverines had to overcome a
2-1 Ohio State lead to secure a 3-2 win.

Helminen had been struggling to find the net, scoring just three
goals through 20 games. After tallying 17 goals last season —
good enough for third on the team — the Brighton native was
ready for a breakout game. Helminen’s hat trick plus one
demonstrated his ability to be a threat to score during any
situation, as he scored at even strength, on the powerplay and
shorthanded.

“Going into the game, I had the mentality to play tough
defense because (on Friday) our line gave up a couple of bad
goals,” Helminen said. “We were looking to go out there
and shut them down defensively. That’s when things started
happening for us.”

Helminen backed up his desire to play better defense, as he
scored his second goal on a great individual effort. The Ohio State
defense was moving the puck out of the zone when Helminen swooped
in and stole a lazy pass. With no one but Ohio State goaltender
Mike Betz in front of him, Helminen froze the netminder with a
nifty deke and flipped the puck over his left shoulder to make the
score 4-1 early in the second period.

“When you’re playing hard like that, things
happen,” Berenson said. “(He found) the puck and good
for him — he finally had a good offensive night, as well as a
defensive night.”

Nystrom lined up on Helminen’s left, and although he
didn’t have the offensive impact that Helminen did, Nystrom
left a lasting impression for the Yost faithful. Late in the second
period, Michigan had a comfortable 5-1 lead. Nystrom and Guenin
collided in the corner and, in frustration, Guenin checked Nystrom
across the face as the two came to blows. Even the two linesmen
couldn’t keep the combatants separated, and both punched for
over a minute before being tossed.

“They play a good chippy game, and I think our guys
don’t like to take that, and we were throwing bodies around.
It was going back and forth the whole game,” Helminen
said.

The frustration on Ohio State’s part came from the
Michigan defense’s ability to shut down nearly all scoring
opportunities. In a game where the Michigan offense seemed to score
at will, it would have been easy for the defense to take a night
off. But the Wolverines’ blueliners stepped up to allow just
16 shots on goal, with only four coming in the second period.
Goaltender Al Montoya was only tested a few times all night and his
one goal against came on the Buckeyes’ powerplay.

Freshman Matt Hunwick, fresh off winning a gold medal with
Montoya at the World Junior’s in Finland last week, chipped
in three assists Saturday night while playing solid along the
blueline.

“I think our defense played pretty strong back
there,” Hunwick said. “We were trying to clear the nets
so that (Montoya) can see the shots. He made some good saves before
he came out. Our defense played good all around.”

On Friday, Michigan was looking at a 2-1 defecit late in the
second period when Ohio State’s Doug Andress took a slashing
penalty. On the ensuing man advantage, the Michigan powerplay unit
found open passing lanes all over the ice, and Hunwick found junior
Milan Gajic along the boards. Gajic let loose a laser one-timer,
and found just enough room to beat Betz up high.

“If a hockey player tells you … he’s trying
to put (the puck) some place, he’s lying,” Gajic said,
referring to the placement of his shot.

Gajic’s fifth goal of the season tied the score at two a
piece. Then junior Jason Ryznar, who has been plagued with shoulder
injuries over the last two seasons, began to use his 6-foot-4 frame
to bang Buckeye defenders in front of Betz. Then, on a 2-0 with
freshman Mike Brown, Ryznar scoring the game winner six minutes
into the third period.

The sweep of the Buckeyes launched Michigan into a tie for first
in the CCHA, and Bereson said there was “no question”
his team played the best series of the season. But the best player
of the weekend was clearly Helminen.

“I can’t say I was (counting my goals), but after
the third one, I was like, ‘Whoa, things are going in for
me,’ ” Helminen said.

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