SAULT STE. MARIE – There was nothing crisp, smooth or pretty about the Michigan hockey team’s effort this weekend. It was downright ugly.
That may be true, but the second-ranked Wolverines still completed a weekend sweep against Lake Superior, 6-2 and 5-1.
While nothing from this weekend will make the Michigan highlight reel, the Wolverines did win their 10th game in a row, currently the nation’s longest winning streak.
Michigan has rallied for its first-ever 8-0 conference start, but Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t exactly pleased with how his team got there.
“I’m not that happy about this game,” Berenson said after Saturday’s game. “I’m happy about the win on the road. I’m happy with the sweep. I’m not happy with the way we played.”
The sloppy play started immediately Saturday night. The Wolverines were called for 16 penalties in the game and found themselves on the short end of 5-on-3 situations twice during the game.
Each time the Wolverines (8-0-0 CCHA, 11-1-0 overall) took back momentum and rhythm, they committed another penalty. The Lakers took advantage of Michigan’s inability to get into its comfort zone to the tune of a 2-1 lead at the first break.
“I think we took too many undisciplined, unnecessary penalties on the verge of stupidity,” Berenson said. “You can’t play like that. That put us on our heels right from the get-go in the first period.
“There’s always going to be some accidental penalties. We took a tripping penalty, that’s accidental, but when you take a slashing penalty and unnecessary roughness-type penalties, that’s not good.”
But the explosive Michigan offense caught fire in the second period again – this time netting three goals in fewer than three minutes – to gain a lead it would not relinquish.
Although the Wolverines looked slightly better Friday, it still took a period for them to pull away from Lake Superior.
A bigger, more physical Laker squad made a point to play against the boards for much of the first period. Trapping Michigan was a tactic to combat the Wolverines’ speed and skill with the puck in open space.
The Michigan offense looked disoriented for the entire opening frame, and Lake Superior jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
“We knew we need to come out and play the body more,” senior captain Kevin Porter said. “They took it to us in the first and outhit us pretty bad. We needed to start playing the body and get a quick goal.”
Added junior defenseman Mark Mitera: “I just don’t think we were ready for the intensity that they brought. They came out harder than us, and we just couldn’t match that.”
The second period, though, saw more action on the open ice, and Lake Superior (0-4-0, 2-7-1) couldn’t keep up with the speed of the Wolverines’ forwards.
Porter, and his linemates senior Chad Kolarik and freshman Max Pacioretty, benefited most from the wide open play.
The three potent forwards moved seamlessly through the Laker defense with crisp, precision passes. Kolarik to Pacioretty to Porter – Michigan fans should get used to some combination of those names for the rest of the season. With a pass from Porter to Mitera as the catalyst, Pacioretty struck first with an easy goal at four minutes in.
Just more than a minute later – the first line was out again – Porter drew second blood. His rebound poke-in put the Wolverines up for good.
“That line, they were a tough line for Lake State to handle,” Berenson said. “When they’re playing well, which they have in just about every game, it’s always good to get them back out on the ice. They were strong tonight. They were good with the puck. As much as we’re trying to play four lines, we’ve got that one line that can be special on any given night.”
A win’s a win. But if Michigan hopes to continue tallying victories – especially with No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 12 Minnesota coming to Ann Arbor next weekend for the College Hockey Showcase – the Wolverines will have to find a way to dress up some ugly wins.