DETROIT — The buzzer sounded, the players shook hands and the Michigan hockey team skated off the ice and into the locker room faster than usual.
The Wolverines had business to attend to. It was time to sing ‘The Victors,’ a tradition reserved for when they earn a series sweep.
Inside the locker room it was anything but business, though, as they shouted and laughed— an unfamiliar feeling.
For the first time this season, Michigan sang. It defeated rival Michigan State, 5-2, on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, following a 3-2 win on Friday night in Ann Arbor.
“I had to get the words out so they knew the words,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson as he pulled the lyrics to the song out from his jacket. “They hadn’t sung it all year.
“Most of our Michigan teams get to sing it a lot. This has been a tough year for this team, but they can enjoy it tonight.”
But before they could walk back to sing the song, it would take another strong first period and strong defense to suck the life out of the Spartans — who have still been unable to sweep a series this year.
Junior forward Derek DeBlois had two goals to lead Michigan, while junior forward Luke Moffatt added a goal and an assist. The Wolverines fired 45 shots on goal on Saturday after taking 37 the prior night.
“This is the best weekend we’ve had, probably all year,” Berenson said. “I think the team deserved it. They worked hard, they got through some tough spots and they kept the goals against down.”
Moffatt kicked off the scoring when he flipped in a puck three minutes in the first period, giving Michigan its fourth consecutive game with a power play goal. His goal was just the start of Michigan’s barrage of shots on Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand.
Hildebrand, who has been the one constant in the Spartans lineup, did not look as sharp as previous contests. His defense didn’t help him much either, allowing the Wolverines to fire off 18 shots in the first period.
The goalie across the ice, freshman Jared Rutledge, looked confident and composed after his first start of 2013 on Friday. Rutledge saved 26 shots in the afternoon, thanks in part to a defense that effectively cleared out dangerous chances.
“In a big venue and a big environment like this, there’s a lot of pressure on him,” Berenson said. “I thought he handled it well.”
Derek DeBlois scored the second goal of the evening when he took a turnover from the blue line and rifled the puck into the upper-right corner. The shot was hard enough to knock Hildebrand’s bottle of water off of the top of the net and force it to spill on the ice.
His goal was even more impressive considering it came when Michigan was shorthanded, exemplifying its strong special teams play as of late.
“It feels great,” DeBlois said. “I closed my eyes for that shot.”
Michigan State began the second period with a shorthanded goal of its own. Chirs Forfar took control of the puck near the centerline and skated down the open ice before fooling Rutledge.
But the Wolverines came out stronger off of the goal, looking determined to finally sing their fight song.
Freshman forward Andrew Copp continued his strong rookie campaign when he slipped the puck between Hildebrand’s legs on pass for the go-ahead goal. Copp’s fifth goal of the season came from sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli, who took the rebound from behind the net and found the Ann Arbor native in the crease.
But the Spartans wouldn’t go down easily, when captain Greg Wolfe laid out to get his stick on a puck sliding in front of Rutledge.
For much of the game, Michigan’s defense prevented open looks, something it had struggled to do with No. 9 Western Michigan last weekend.
DeBlois’ night wasn’t done, though, as he found himself in the right place to swing the momentum back in Michigan’s favor. After a hard shot from senior defenseman Lee Moffie couldn’t be handled by Hildebrand, DeBlois tapped in the rebound from the left side.
The goal was the final dagger to the Spartans’ chances of making a comeback.
“That was huge,” Berenson said of DeBlois’ second goal. “We were on our heels, we weren’t playing well, we had just given up a goal and we were sloppy in our zone.
“It was one of those goals that really discourages the other team.”
Freshman forward Boo Nieves contributed a goal late in the period for good measure, attempting a pass that deflected off the skate of a Michigan State defenseman.
Rutledge was never tested in the final minutes of the game, allowing the Wolverines’ forecheck to dominate a dejected Spartan squad.
“It’s one thing to sweep, and then I think it’s another thing to sweep State,” DeBlois said. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
And when the time came to sing the fight song, the players, rest assured, didn’t need to be reminded about the lyrics.
“We’re all happy and rearing to go,” Rutledge said of his first-time experience. “It’s a great sight. I did not (need help reading the words). I knew them pretty well.”