MARQUETTE – In a matter of moments, the Berry Events Center went from the loudest to the quietest place in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula.
And there’s a lot of untouched wilderness to compete against for that degree of silence.
But, the 4,290-person-strong hush wasn’t bad for the Wolverines. Silencing the crowd was the biggest cheer the Michigan hockey team (2-0 CCHA, 3-1 overall) could have hoped for in its 4-3 win at Northern Michigan Saturday night. The Wolverines also won its conference opener the night before, 3-1, for the series sweep.
But at the end of Saturday’s game, the age-old saying was reversed – the storm came before the calm.
With 40 seconds remaining, the decibel level of the crowd exploded. No. 6 Michigan led the Wildcats 3-2 when Northern Michigan’s Matt Siddall sent the puck flying off his stick from the top of the right circle. Redshirt freshman Phil Fox redirected the pass past goaltender Billy Sauer’s stick for the game-tying goal as the neon-vested students cheered uproariously behind him.
At the time, Northern Michigan had a two-man advantage – the Wolverines were killing a five-minute Matt Rust checking-from-behind penalty (and ejection), and the Wildcats pulled goalie Derek Janzen.
Senior Chad Kolarik let the fans celebrate – for 21 seconds.
Northern Michigan was still on the power play when the puck came loose at the Wolverine blue line. Kolarik beat the Wildcat defender to the puck and sent the short-handed shot to the back of the net to the tune of a deafening silence for his fourth point on the weekend.
“Our team was tired (from killing penalties),” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And you look to your seniors, and Porter and Kolarik are two key players and they wanted to make this happen. I don’t know if they thought they’d score a goal, but it was the biggest goal of our short season.”
Emerging from the locker room, Kolarik’s beaming smile said more than the words coming out of his mouth.
“It feels good, it feels good,” Kolarik said. “(Associate head coach) Mel (Pearson) actually called it and said, ‘Let’s try to get a shortie,’ before we went out there because we were going to be shorthanded the entire overtime (from Rust’s penalty) so it would be tough for us to score a goal.”
While the Wolverines were thrilled with the weekend sweep and the 2-0-conference start without overtime, one freshman was particularly relieved after hearing the news over the speakers; Rust originally thought the Wildcats won.
“It went from poor Rust, he was so worried he had let the team down,” Berenson said. “To total jubilation from everyone else. And that’s college hockey. That’s how momentum can change.”
But Rust’s major penalty was just the tip of the penalty iceberg. In two games, there were a combined 30 penalties (15 per team) – an average of five a period. Half of the series’ periods had 12 or more penalty minutes.
Eventually, Michigan’s penalties caught up with them and it surrendered its first man-down goal of the year.
None of that fazed the young Wolverines. They displayed the gritty play that led them to a strong performance last weekend at the Ice Breaker Invitational.
“It’s not strategy,” Berenson said. “It’s just having to deal with what’s going on in the game and that’s really what our team did.”