ST. PAUL, Minn. — Two senior unsung heroes sat in the Michigan hockey locker room, dejected after coming one goal shy of winning the program’s 10th national title.

Matt Rust, with his arm around a teary-eyed Ben Winnett, encompassed the Wolverines’ devastating loss to Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday in just a few short words.

“Everyone played their hearts out,” Rust said. “I don’t have much else to say.”

While seniors Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso are the more visible Wolverines on the team, it was some of the players behind the scenes — namely Rust and Winnett — who propelled Michigan to have so much success late in the year.

Rust and Winnett impacted the NCAA title game in their own separate ways.

“If it wasn’t for (Winnett), I don’t know if we would have been in the final game,” Caporusso said in the post-game press conference.

Winnett tallied the Wolverines’ first goal against the Bulldogs with about five minutes remaining in the first period — it was just his fifth goal all season, but the second in just as many games.

Even though he hasn’t had the offensive season Michigan coach Red Berenson expected, Winnett still had a consistent spot in the lineup.

The same could be said for Rust, who has just five goals and 21 assists on the year.

An integral piece of the Wolverine penalty kill and a face-off specialist, Rust has been the backbone of Michigan’s stellar defensive play the past few weeks. He helped the Wolverines kill eight of the nine Minnesota-Duluth power play opportunities.

Additionally, he won the key faceoff that led to Winnett’s first-period goal.

“Guys go unnoticed,” Caporusso said. “A guy like Matt Rust goes unnoticed. Those guys win championships. They’re in the shadows … they played unbelievable.”

SILVER LINING: Berenson didn’t mince words when talking about the officiating of the National Championship game.

“Every time a player falls down, it shouldn’t be a penalty, not in NCAA championship hockey,” Berenson said following the loss.

Prior to the game, Berenson and the Michigan coaching staff said that if the Wolverines could kill off three penalties then they’d be perfectly fine against Minnesota-Duluth.

The Bulldogs boast the 10th best power-play unit in the country, so Michigan didn’t want to be in the sin-bin the entire night. But that wasn’t the case, as the Wolverines were whistled for nine penalties to Minnesota-Duluth’s four.

Yet, even though they were in the box for almost a third of the game, the Wolverines killed off all but one of the Bulldogs’ power plays — a testament to the strength of a team that has placed heightened emphasis on defense in the past three weeks.

“We were dialed in,” Berenson said.

Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers prepared Michigan for Minnesota-Duluth’s potent power play prior to Saturday’s game, with the Wolverines’ penalty killers playing aggressive and limiting the Bulldogs’ time to work the puck down low.

And while the Wolverines lost the biggest game of the season, there is still a small silver lining to be taken away from the Xcel Energy Center.

“We showed a lot of character, guys blocking shots,” senior forward Carl Hagelin said. “Overall, great PK this weekend.”

NOTES: The Wolverines had three team members named to the 2011 men’s Frozen Four All-Tournament team: senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick, Winnett and freshman defenseman Jon Merrill … Michigan coach Red Berenson is now 2-1 in National Championship games and 5-9 in the Frozen Four during his 27-year career in Ann Arbor.

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