Michigan coach Red Berenson talked with his team during practice all week about the desperation the Wolverines would need if they were going to sweep Notre Dame and stay unbeaten in the CCHA.
But that desperation was far from the Wolverines’ radar screen for most of this weekend.
Playing its most talented opponent since it lost to North Dakota Oct. 12, Michigan was outworked by Notre Dame. The Wolverines were outshot in both games in a weekend for the first time this season. If not for a couple breaks and an outstanding performance by freshman goaltender Al Montoya on Friday night, the Wolverines easily could have been swept.
“There are a lot of areas where we didn’t match their intensity,” sophomore forward Milan Gajic said. “Everything they did was hard and it seemed like there were points where we didn’t do it as hard as them, not even close. That has to hit you in the head.”
Through the first five periods of play this weekend, the Irish outshot the Wolverines 61-38 and generated many more scoring opportunities. Until Eric Nystrom gave the Wolverines the lead late in the second period on Saturday, Michigan had just two shots on net for the period In that period the Irish got in the Wolverines’ faces, blocking half of the shots they attempted.
The Wolverines’ lack of chances, though, was not because they didn’t get powerplay opportunities. Michigan had seven chances with an extra man on Saturday – including a 41-second two-man advantage midway through the third period – and five on Friday night, but it only capitalized on two of them.
Down the final stretch on Saturday, the Wolverines started to show a little more determination as Gajic, Jeff Tambellini and Michael Woodford all had chances to tie the game. But it wasn’t enough to beat Irish goaltender Morgan Cey.
“The first time this whole weekend when we played with desperation was in the third period,” Montoya said. “But that’s how we have to play every single night every period.”
Michigan had handled its opponents for the most part this season, but until this weekend, the only team with a winning record that the Wolverines faced was North Dakota. Its first three CCHA opponents – Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green and Lake Superior – have a combined conference record of 3-21-3.
But now the schedule gets much tougher, and the Wolverines know that they are going to have to put up a better effort if they are going come out on top against their upcoming opponents.
“I’ve tried to be honest with everyone saying that we’ve played well enough against teams that haven’t won much,” Berenson said. “But these are the tougher tests for our team now.”