What a difference a couple months make.
The Michigan and Miami (Ohio) hockey teams first played each other in November, with the RedHawks sweeping the Wolverines in Oxford. In the first game of that series, Miami came out and hit Michigan in the mouth, never looking back after scoring a goal less than two minutes into the game. That game, and that series, started a month-long slide for the Wolverines, where they didn’t win a game until Dec. 3.
Fast forward to February.
The Wolverines, coming off a bye week, took it to Miami the entire weekend, and earned a sweep of their own. They showed off a physical style of play that appeared two weeks ago at Notre Dame, but hadn’t been a characteristic for most of the season.
Michigan played like a team that had something to prove, punishing the RedHawks whenever they had the opportunity and refused to back down from one of the most talented teams in the CCHA.
“This isn’t women’s tennis, this is CCHA hockey,” said junior forward A.J. Treais. “We might not be the biggest team in the league, but we can hang with those guys.”
On Friday night, Michigan scored three goals in the first period. They weren’t fancy or finesse goals. These were, near-the-crease punishing goals.
To set up the second goal of the period, senior captain Luke Glendening delivered a massive check that sent Miami defenseman Ben Paulides sprawling to the ice. Treais was left with empty space between him and goaltender Cody Reichard, said “thank you very much” to Glendening, and finished top right on Reichard.
A pretty goal, yes, but not one Michigan would have scored in November.
“It’s something that Red always says — when you are focusing more on defense, and when you go out there working as hard as you possibly can, the bounces kind of go your way,” said junior defenseman Lee Moffie.
Surprising to no one that has seen these teams play, Friday’s game had some extracurricular activities. Senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick took a couple minutes to get up after being blasted in the crease, and the referees had to break up players after almost every save.
But Friday night was just a warm-up to the shenanigans that plagued Saturday night’s contest. The game was a dogfight from the beginning, and only got worse as Michigan’s lead got bigger.
The Wolverines had a dumbfounding six penalties in the first period, earning their first with less than a minute off the clock. The penalties didn’t hurt Michigan, though, as it ended the first period up 1-0 after a shorthanded goal by Moffie.
The series was physical, but didn’t get out of hand until the third period of Saturday’s contest. The two teams combined for 16 penalties, with most of those coming after the game was out of reach.
With only one minute left, a scrum broke out after a save by Miami goalie Connor Knapp. Freshman forward Alex Guptill was the first Wolverine in the brawl, but junior forward Chris Brown finished off the job.
Miami defenseman Will Weber and Brown —dropping their gloves and taking swings well after the whistle had blown — would have torn each other to pieces if not for the referees.
A total of nine penalties were given out after the fight, putting a sour ending on a hard-fought game.
“I thought we played a good game,” Berenson said. “Disappointing at the end. The score was out of reach — that stuff shouldn’t happen. There’s no fighting in college hockey. Let’s face it, if you want to fight, go out to the parking lot after the game.”
Because of his disqualification penalty, Brown will be suspended for Friday’s game against Michigan State. The Wolverines lose one of their best offensive players in one of their most important games and Miami loses its captain against non-conference opponent Alabama-Huntsville.
Berenson wasn’t happy.
“It’s really too bad that happened,” Berenson said. “A smart coach knows how important his players are and that they have to stay in the game, and when a team has a non-conference opponent the next weekend, they might take liberties. Maybe they did, but we are the ones who are going to pay for it.”
The series was a war that Michigan battled through, dispelling any notion that this team isn’t physical enough for the postseason. Michigan didn’t allow a goal on Saturday, despite finishing with 52 penalty minutes.
This isn’t the same Michigan team that Miami saw in November.