DETROIT After three consecutive CCHA series (Notre Dame, Alaska-Fairbanks and Bowling Green) without a sweep, the Michigan hockey team threw the monkey off its back Saturday, squeaking by Lake Superior 1-0 at Joe Louis Arena.
The victory, coupled with a 5-0 win Thursday night in Sault Ste. Marie, helped the Wolverines inch two points closer to rival Michigan State in the CCHA standings. The Spartans tied Ohio State twice this weekend in Columbus and maintained a two-point lead on the Wolverines.
“We”re still in the fight for first place, and we”re in a fight to make the NCAA Tournament,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We can”t stumble again. We only have six games remaining in league play, and we have to take advantage of every one of them.”
Michigan, which had been unable to gain on the Spartans in the standings during the past three weeks due to untimely losses, was finally able to take advantage of Michigan State”s blunders against the Buckeyes.
“It”s huge to have other teams help us out in the league,” freshman forward Michael Woodford said. “But we have to take care of business ourselves. We moved up two points, and that”s so huge to get back in the race. We just need to take the help when we can get it.”
The Wolverines (13-5-4 CCHA, 16-8-5 overall), who extended their road unbeaten streak in conference to 11 games (9-0-2), wasted no time Saturday. Michigan jumped on the Lakers (4-17-1, 7-20-1) just 2:23 into the first period on the game”s first powerplay.
Senior forward Craig Murray fired a rocket from the point, which caromed off the pads of Lake Superior goaltender Terry Denike, opening up the top right corner of the net for freshman defenseman Eric Werner, who did the rest.
“(Werner) is getting a little more confidence,”
“(Werner) is getting a little more confidence,” Berenson said. “His goals have been more rebounds than big shots. He has that sixth sense as to when there”s something going on.”
After Werner”s goal (his fourth point of the weekend), the game turned into a defensive struggle, as Denike and Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn turned into human backstops. Denike stoned 29 shots and kept his team in the game, helping to kill four Michigan powerplays.
“We didn”t give up a lot of great opportunities and we are proud of that,” Lake Superior coach Frank Anzalone said. “That is how we began (our program”s turnaround) in 1982-83. We were determined to protect our goaltender and give him total respect and ask him to make five or six big saves, and that is what Terry did for us tonight.”
But Blackburn and the Michigan defensive unit were not to be outdone by the Lakers” backup goaltender. The Wolverines allowed just 14 shots on Blackburn, as they clamped down and protected the one-goal lead.
“Lake State may not be as good of an offensive team as some, but still, they”re playing hard, they”re going to the net, and they put some pressure on us,” Berenson said. “Our defense did a nice job this weekend, and they got some help from the forwards.”
In Thursday night”s game, the Wolverines utilized a total team effort, as Mike Komisarek, Eric Nystrom, Jed Ortmeyer and John Shouneyia each tallied a goal and an assist. The Wolverines scored two powerplay goals, including Milan Gajic”s sixth goal of the season which ended the freshman”s six game pointless streak.
“Gajic”s effort that”s not something you practice,” Berenson said. “He beat his man one-on-one and then beat the goalie.”
Down the stretch they come
With six CCHA games left to play, the Wolverines currently trail Michigan State by two points in the conference standings. Here”s the gauntlet that each team will have to overcome if they want to claim the title.
Feb. 8,9 Nebraska-Omaha at Yost Ice Arena
Feb. 16 Michigan State (nonconference)
Feb. 22, 23 Ohio State at Yost
Mar. 1, 2 Western Michigan at Yost, at Western Michigan
Feb. 8, 9 Notre Dame at Munn Ice Arena
Feb. 16 Michigan (nonconference)
Feb.22, 23 at Miami
Mar. 1,2 at Ferris State, Ferris State at Munn Ice Arena