The lasting image of Saturday night’s game between No. 6 Michigan and No. 20 Nebraska-Omaha was a dancing water bottle. That’s because three of Michigan’s first four goals went top shelf, making the goalie’s green Gatorade bottle jump – and signifying that a goal had been scored before the lamp could be lit.
The Wolverines’ dominating 7-3 win over the Mavericks on Saturday night capped off a series sweep and catapulted Michigan to second place in the conference – six points behind conference leader Miami (Ohio).
“We got four points this weekend, and now we’re back in the league race,” captain Andrew Ebbett said. “I thought that was a huge way to finish off the first half. It gives us something to build on after Christmas.”
Coming into the weekend, Michigan (7-3-1 CCHA, 11-5-1 overall) was suffering its worst losing streak (four) since it lost six in a row back in November and December of the 1988-89 season. But after a big 4-2 win on Friday night, the Yost crowd was anticipating another solid performance on Saturday. The Wolverines didn’t disappoint.
Nebraska-Omaha (5-7-0, 9-7-0) drew blood first – just 1:54 into the game with a goal by forward Scott Parse. Michigan alternate-captain Brandon Kaleniecki tied the game when his wrist shot zipped past goaltender Jerad Kaufmann’s glove and made the goalie’s water bottle jump for the first time of the evening. But almost a minute later, it seemed as if the Wolverines were in for another night of bad bounces.
As the Mavericks attacked the net, Michigan freshman Jack Johnson was able to break up a pass toward the left side. But the puck went right to Nebraska-Omaha forward Bill Thomas, who slipped it past freshman goalie Billy Sauer to put his team up 2-1.
“They came out and stormed us early in the game,” Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson said. “It was good that we kept our composure and kept working them and made our chances count.”
Not long after Thomas’s goal, Wolverines sophomore Kevin Porter tied the game when his wrister beat the goaltender top shelf on his stick side, sending the bottle dancing again.
“When you throw things at the net, you get a little lucky,” Michigan freshman Jason Bailey said. “And it just went in for us tonight.”
But the goal that proved to be the game-winner was anything but luck. While Michigan was killing a penalty, forward Andrew Cogliano picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated off alone toward the net. Mavericks defenseman Juha Uotila raced toward his own zone, turning his back toward the goalie in an attempt to cut off Cogliano.
The freshman juked left but shot to his right as he was moving, creating enough space for the puck to go sailing over Kaufmann’s out-stretched glove into the top-right corner of the net. For the third time in four goals, the quickest indicator of a score was a green Gatorade bottle jumping on the top of the net. That made the score 4-2 and essentially put the game away – even though Michigan would score three more goals that night.
On Friday night, the Wolverines got the job done mostly without luck and won, 4-2.
Kaleniecki scored the team’s first goal at 11:48 in the first period – around five minutes after Nebraska-Omaha scored – when he deflected an Ebbett shot over the goaltender’s right shoulder. Then junior Jason Dest gave Michigan a lead it would never relinquish with a short-handed goal at 17:31 in the second period.
Ebbett brought the puck up the right side of the offensive zone and then left it off for Dest, who just flipped it over the goalie’s glove to make it 2-1.
“Obviously, the power play goal got us back in the game, and the short-handed goal by Dest was a big goal,” Berenson said. “The goals came at the right time, and we needed them.”
Michigan will now have a few weeks off before heading to Joe Louis Arena for the Great Lakes Invitational at the end of the month. There, it will face a tough opponent, No. 4 Colorado College, to open up the first round.