Northeastern – 3
Michigan – 2
Northeastern – 3
Michigan – 4
One of the cardinal rules in hockey’s unwritten code of conduct is to protect your goaltender. And, if an opposing forward challenges this, expect a swift retaliation from the nearest defenseman.
No. 6 Michigan had the perfect opportunity to exact revenge on Saturday in the form of a comeback after Northeastern center Joe Vitale bulldozed Wolverines’ goaltender Billy Sauer with flying knees and elbows in the second period of the 3-2 loss to the Huskies.
But after sophomore defenseman Jack Johnson quickly pummeled Vitale onto the ice, Michigan (1-1-0 CCHA, 4-2-0 overall) failed to capitalize on any newfound momentum, going scoreless on the ensuing one-man advantage en route to an 0-for-12 showing on the power play.
“When we get an opportunity like that, to get something going before we go into intermission, it’s huge,” alternate captain Jason Dest said. “It’s huge to be able to go out for the next period with momentum.”
Michigan started the game brimming with confidence from a 4-3 overtime victory over Northeastern (0-2-1 Hockey East, 1-2-1 overall) on Friday night, and opened the scoring Saturday when Johnson slotted a first period shot past Northeastern goaltender Brad Thiessen.
The tide swayed in the second, when the Huskies took a 2-1 lead with a pair of goals just minutes apart. The tying goal came on a rebound that Northeastern forward Randy Guzior slapped in from the slot. Two minutes later, after Michigan forward Jason Bailey was whistled for goaltender interference, Husky center Jimmy Russo took a pass and dumped it in the backside of Sauer’s net.
After that point, Michigan had six more chances on the power play – including Vitale’s aforementioned goaltender interference call – but Thiessen continually made easy saves while the Wolverines failed to dig up any of the rebounds that have been their offensive bread and butter this season.
“You have to give credit to their goalie,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He made the saves he needed to make, and their defense kept us away from any lose pucks or second chances – I think we had one rebound goal in the game. They checked hard, and we rarely got more than one isolated chance at a time.”
With Thiessen steadily protecting Northeastern’s lead from the crease, the Huskies netted an insurance goal halfway through the third period. As Northeastern moved the puck around the Michigan zone, Chad Costello received a pass in the left circle and slapped it past a confused Michigan defense and an unsuspecting Sauer.
“That was a killer goal because goals were hard to come by,” Berenson said. “Whether that was a defensive zone breakdown, or a lapse at the end of a shift or it surprised the goalie, goals like that kill you.”
In the final minutes of the game, Costello’s goal proved timely when Thiessen gave up a rebound on a shot by Dest, which junior Kevin Porter knocked past Thiessen with 3:24 remaining.
With just more than one minute remaining, Michigan prepared to pull Sauer for an extra attacker, but a hooking penalty to sophomore Travis Turnbull put the final nail in the Wolverines’ coffin.
Led by junior T.J. Hensick, who assisted on both Michigan goals, and Porter, the Wolverines tried to make a last ditch, five-on-five effort with an empty net, but couldn’t muster more than two shots that Thiessen easily turned aside.
“Obviously, that hurts,” Berenson said. “We’re trying to get our goalie out, trying to outnumber them and here we are killing a penalty.”