AUBURN HILLS – After sophomore defenseman Chris Summers was ejected Friday of early in the third period night’s game for checking from behind, the Michigan hockey team was left with just five defensemen.
But for Saturday’s against Notre Dame, Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t going to risk letting that happen again. For the first time this season, he chose to start a seventh defenseman, Tristin Llewellyn, instead of a complete fourth forward line.
Summers’s penalty – the Wolverines’ fourth major of the year – was the first committed by a blueliner.
Though his penalty didn’t doom the Wolverines – Michigan eked out a 3-2 victory Friday- it left Berenson in a difficult position with nearly 18 minutes left in a tied game.
But the top-ranked Wolverines successfully killed off a five-minute penalty to revive the largest crowd at Yost this season and turn what seemed like an impossibly deep hole into a game-changing moment.
“There’s the game right there,” Berenson said. “Those are points in the game that don’t really show up in the stat sheet, but they’re really important.”
As a result, the incomplete fourth line didn’t see as much ice as usual (it played primarily on the penalty kill) and the defensive pairings rotated more frequently.
JAGGED ICE: There’s a certain prestige surrounding the Palace at Auburn Hills, whether it’s because of the numerous Detroit Pistons NBA Championships or the many concerts that have taken place there. So when the No. 1 hockey team in the country goes to play there, you expect the highest quality of competition.
Well, that wasn’t quite the case. Instead, the choppy temporary ice installed for the showdown between the two top-10 teams ended up stealing the show.
Playing right after a game between Wayne State and Niagara, the Wolverines had to deal with the challenge of playing on a new rink that had already been chewed up for 60 minutes.
“The ice was not good at all,” junior Tim Miller said. “It was like playing pond hockey.”
Berenson expressed concern about whether there was enough ice on the sheet for the Zamboni to take off each time it cleared the ice between periods.
Strategically, it was just a matter of “trying not to overhandle the puck,” putting as many shots on goal as possible and hoping for a lucky bounce – something senior Chad Kolarik got about seven minutes in on a shorthanded opportunity. The Notre Dame goalie appeared to have deflected the puck away with his leg pad, but instead of rebounding outwards, the puck oddly redirected into the goal to give the Wolverines an early 1-0 lead.
“I thought both teams were more sloppy tonight than they were last night,” Berenson said Saturday. “The ice was rough, so it turned into a different kind of game.”
CCHA STANDINGS: After this weekend’s play, the shape of the conference standings is starting to emerge.
The four top teams, Michigan, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State and Notre Dame, each have at least 23 points, with the Wolverines and RedHawks leading the pack with 30 points apiece. The two teams meet for a series at Miami Feb. 8. Michigan also faces the Spartans, who are just four points behind, four times this season. The first matchup is this weekend.