SOUTH BEND — The Michigan hockey team appeared overwhelmed by its series against Notre Dame, as evidenced by the Fighting Irish’s effortless sweep over the Wolverines this weekend.
But Michigan seemed even more taken aback by the Notre Dame trio of juniors Anders Lee, Jeff Costello and Bryan Rust, who ran circles around the Wolverines en route to 16 combined points over the weekend.
“We don’t have one line that can outplay that line, but we’ve got three lines that can play with them,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They’ve got a good line, they’ve got a good team and that’s why they’re way ahead of us.”
If there were any Fighting Irish players that Michigan desperately needed to shut down in order to have any real chance in the game, it was that line. Both Friday and Saturday night played out in similar ways — the Wolverines were barely keeping themselves alive, but quick goals from Lee, Costello and Rust’s line put the final nail in Michigan’s coffin.
On Friday, freshman forward Andrew Copp’s shorthanded goal knotted the game at three in the final four minutes of the second period, giving Michigan some hope that it could keep up with Notre Dame’s quick pace. Enter Lee who, about 40 seconds later, easily beat freshman goaltender Jared Rutledge on a one-timer.
The Fighting Irish would go on to score three more times in the course of that game, but Lee’s momentum-busting goal — off the power play no less — was all Notre Dame needed to pull ahead of the Wolverines and never look back.
Flash forward to Saturday. The Wolverines were down, 2-1, midway through the second period, but overcoming a one-goal deficit still seemed like a feasible mission at that point. Sophomore forward Alex Guptill had just scored on the power play, and with the game getting increasingly chippy, it looked like Michigan would have a lot more opportunities for its man advantage to capitalize.
But Rust’s tap in from the bottom of the circle paved the way for another Notre Dame goal less than two minutes later, and the Fighting Irish tendency to score in bunches never put the Wolverines close enough to effectively play catch up.
“We needed to match their physicality,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “There are a lot of big guys over there and unfortunately, I don’t think we could match (that). They won a lot more battles than we did, they were tougher on pucks and we couldn’t match that.”
Consistency on the forward corps has been a big question mark for the Wolverines, but in the past few weeks, they finally seem to have found some in the form of their underclassmen.
Berenson admitted that some players, like freshman Boo Nieves and sophomore Phil Di Giuseppe, were still too young to fully hold their own against the Fighting Irish’s experienced trio.
Even the Wolverines’ upperclassmen couldn’t do enough to hold their own in front of the Fighting Irish. Berenson continued to tinker with senior forward A.J. Treais’ line in order to find a spark for his captain, but after Treais’ -3 plus-minus rating on the weekend, the coach implied he’s going to continue to mix and match players to ignite Treais’ game.
Despite the shortcomings, Berenson still believes Michigan had the potential to keep up with Lee, Costello and Rust.
“They’re a good line, but our players are good too,” Berenson said. “They play against good players every weekend. (Notre Dame was) opportunistic and they made their chances count and had a good weekend. We didn’t.”