For two games and forty minutes, everything was different in
Yost Ice Arena. It didn’t sound the same and it didn’t
feel the same. The performance of the Michigan hockey team
certainly didn’t look the same, either.

Why’d this happen? Well, yesterday’s game
wasn’t included in student’s season ticket plans, so
the attendance was paltry (the announced crowd was 5,873, but it
was less). Based on the magnitude of the game, it could have been
played in Michigan Stadium in front of 110,000. Everyone was tight
— from the fans to the players to the coaches.

Though everything changed in yesterday’s final period,
there’s still one more reason Michigan barely eked out its
first-round series against the CCHA’s worst team:
Nebraska-Omaha freshman goaltender Chris Holt and the
Mavericks’ defense came to Ann Arbor with a sound gameplan,
one that left Michigan coaches and players searching for answers
until the weekend’s final period.

The Mavericks had been preparing to play Michigan for three
weeks, and they were ready to combat the Wolverines’ deep,
talented offense. Nebraska-Omaha focused on crowding the area in
front of its net so as to force Michigan to fire away from the
perimeter. Nebraska-Omaha planned to block the shots they did let
loose.

The plan worked. The Maverick defenders stopped 91 shots in the
series, while the Wolverines prevented just 25 shots from reaching
their goal. They also shut down Michigan’s powerplay 20 times
in 22 attempts.

“Nebraska came up with a great series,” Berenson
said. “Their goalie played well, their team started to
believe in their system. Their coach said that was best they played
all year.”

And most of the shots that made it past the Mavericks’
defense were stopped by Holt. The Mavericks’ 3.46 goals
against average is more than one goal higher than Michigan’s
team GAA, but nobody who watched this weekend’s games would
have noticed that.

Michigan’s offense was slowly coming alive yesterday, and
Holt made many eye-popping saves in the second period to keep the
Mavericks in the lead.

“They struggled in goals-against this season,”
Berenson said. “This kid came in here and stood on his
head.

“But if you look at the shot chart, we weren’t
getting shots from the slot area. All our shots were coming from
bad angles.”

Last year, Holt played on the U.S. Under-18 team with current
Wolverine freshmen Mike Brown, T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick.
Though Holt’s performance took many by surprise, his three
former teammates weren’t among them.

“It’s not really out of the ordinary,” Hunwick
said. “He was a pretty solid goaltender last year. We were a
young team so we couldn’t help out a whole lot.”

Holt, who was drafted by the New York Rangers last summer,
believes that the lessons he learned from this weekend’s
series will pay off the next three years.

“I feel as though I matured a lot,” Holt said.
“Playing against this team has been a real pleasure;
it’s been a real battle and I know what I need to do …
Hopefully I can come back and really flourish next
season.”

But with the CCHA Tournament and possibly the NCAA Tournament on
the line, Michigan finally came to life in the third period. Only
5-of-26 shots were blocked, and Jeff Tambellini’s
game-clinching goal came on the powerplay. But, more than anything,
the Wolverines are relieved to still be alive.

“This weekend seemed to take a month,” Berenson
said.

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