On Friday night, the No. 5 Michigan hockey team relied on its freshmen from the get-go to carry the scoring load. Forward Phil Di Giuseppe scored a goal for the first time since Dec. 2, and forward Alex Guptill gave the Wolverines the lead for good later on in the first period.
Those two goals would be the difference for Michigan in a 4-1 victory over Northern Michigan.
But on Saturday, the upperclassmen played like they had something to prove to the crowd on senior night at Yost Ice Arena. The game had a different vibe to it.
Michigan and Northern Michigan (11-6-3 CCHA, 14-12-6 overall) needed an overtime period to settle the last regular-season game at Yost, trading punches for the first 60 minutes to a 2-2 deadlock.
Junior forward A.J. Treais made quick work of the extra time. He needed just 1:20 of overtime to score on a wrister to the left side of the net, tying Guptill for the team lead with 15 goals.
Michigan is 9-2-1 in 2012, and Saturday’s win guaranteed it a bye in the first round the CCHA Tournament.
Treais has seven goals in as many games, but the biggest one of that stretch sent Michigan (14-8-4, 20-10-4) home with a 3-2 victory.
“It’s pretty fitting,” said senior captain Luke Glendening. “The way he’s been playing has been unbelievable.”
But Michigan doesn’t come close to winning that game without its seniors.
Senior defenseman Greg Pateryn was on a mission, delivering bone-jarring hits every chance he got. There were a handful of instances on Saturday where Pateryn and a Wildcat had an open-ice collision. Pateryn won every time.
“I saw my opportunities and I tried to step up,” Pateryn said. “If I can get a few big hits like that, it kind of gets everyone going as well. That’s kind of what I was trying to do.”
Added Michigan coach Red Berenson: “Game in and game out, he plays like a man.”
Senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick continued his stellar season in net, posting 26 saves on both Friday and Saturday, bailing out a Wolverine defense that played a less-than-spectacular game. Hunwick allowed just two goals, and even then, a bad defensive turnover left him out to dry on the Wildcats’ first tally of the night.
And though Treais was the hero, the game was won by the captain.
On that game-winning shot, Luke Glendening got the puck on the opposite side of Treais and sent off an absolute rocket clear across the ice that Treais redirected perfectly.
“It’s really special,” Pateryn said. “Right when Luke had that puck and I saw A.J. wide open, I knew Luke was going to pass it for some reason. … I was a little premature in my celebration.”
That assist was preceded by the first goal of the game, where Glendening showed off his powerful stick again with a snipe from the slot.
This is the smallest senior class Berenson could remember — only four Wolverines were honored after Saturday’s game. For comparison’s sake, there are eight freshman on the roster this year.
This is also a senior class that wasn’t supposed to be this successful. Pateryn was a healthy scratch at points during his sophomore year. Glendening and Hunwick were both walk-on, non-scholarship players that had to bust their tails to crack the starting lineup. The highest-recruited player was forward David Wohlberg, and he has struggled with injuries his whole Michigan career.
“I can’t tell you how much those players have developed and improved and matured since they came as freshmen,” Berenson said. “It’s night and day. These guys are as good as it gets.”
This class isn’t the most talented Michigan has ever seen, but it’s a class that embodies the type of player Berenson fills his program with: tough, scrappy and determined.
“I know they are dialed-in every night, but this has to be a special night,” Berenson said. “Is it a coincidence that Luke Glendening gets a goal and an assist tonight on senior night? I don’t think so.”
On Saturday, Pateryn was one-on-one with a Wildcat, who made a quick move to the goal. Pateryn sprawled on the ice, knocking the puck free and clearing the threat.
It was a trademark play of this senior class — they don’t appear on the stat sheet and they don’t get much glory.
But they win games.