DETROIT — Last season, the Michigan hockey team stumbled into the Great Lakes Invitational with a sub-par 11-7 record, having lost to CCHA basement dwellers Northern Michigan and Western Michigan.
But that was all forgotten after the 10th-ranked Wolverines won their second straight GLI Championship over Michigan State and used the tournament as a springboard for the rest of the season, winning 13 of their final 16 regular-season games.
The 45th Annual GLI proved to be a role reversal from last year as the unranked Wolverines lost their opening-round contest to underdog Rensselaer Polytechnic last week, 4-3. The loss to the Engineers placed the Wolverines in the third-place game against Michigan Tech, for the first time since 2005.
Against Michigan Tech, goalie Bryan Hogan, who had been benched against RPI, backstopped Michigan to a much-needed 5-3 victory.
With Hogan in net, Wolverine freshman Lindsay Sparks netted the first power play marker of the afternoon — his first goal of the season — in the opening period. Michigan looked to increase its lead on the power play again in the middle frame when it saw four man-advantages, capitalizing on two of them.
After Michigan Tech (2-12-0 WCHA, 3-16 overall) center Brett Olson took a high sticking penalty with Michigan leading 2-1, junior forward Matt Rust gathered the puck amidst a scrum in front of the net and put home a wrist shot to help the Wolverines secure a split in Detroit.
The power play has been inconsistent all year for the Wolverines. They have failed to generate much traffic in front of opposing goalies. Nor have they found quality scoring opportunities. Currently, Michigan’s power play sits in ninth place in the conference, so it has been a work in progress all year.
“We had the puck under control for much of the power play and moved it pretty well.” Berenson said. “We got some good scoring opportunities, but it’s still an issue.”
Michigan went just one-for-eight with the man advantage against RPI, but against the Huskies, the Wolverines scored a season-high three power play goals. And if the Wolverines expect to make a second-half run at a top-four spot in the CCHA, they’ll need their power play to be clicking on all cylinders — something it has rarely done this year.
The disappointment hung heavily from Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s tough waking up on (Wednesday) morning and knowing you’re playing in the consolation game for third place,” Rust said. “But we’re trying to get a bid into the NCAA Tournament.”
“It’s not good obviously to lose (against RPI),” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We came here to get in the Championship game, number one, and to try and get our name up on that banner, again. That’s why everyone comes here. But we had something to prove, and we didn’t quite prove it.”
Missed scoring opportunities seemed to be commonplace for the Wolverines against the Engineers as Michigan pelted RPI goaltender Allen York with 46 shots. Unfortunately for Michigan, just three found their way into the back of the net.
According to junior forward Carl Hagelin, though, it was the defensive side of the redline that cost the Wolverines (10-10 overall, 5-7 CCHA) a chance at a rematch with intrastate rival Michigan State in the championship game.
“It all comes down to how many goals you let up,” he said. “Everyone is so defensive-minded. If you don’t take care of your own end, you’re not going to win any games.”
Between netminders Bryan Hogan and Shawn Hunwick — who replaced Hogan after the second period — they surrendered four goals on 13 shots, a statistical line that warrants some concern from behind the Wolverine bench.