Earlier in the week, Michigan coach Red Berenson said that the telltale sign of his team’s first game in two weeks would be the first 10 minutes of the first period.
And those early moments in tonight’s 4-1 win over Northern Michigan were a good indication that his team was in fact ready for playoff hockey.
Michigan stormed ahead early and never looked back, taking a one game lead in the best-of-three CCHA quarterfinal series against the Wildcats.
About 10 minutes is all it took for the Wolverines to strike first blood tonight when senior captain Matt Hunwick snapped a wrist shot from the left circle that froze Northern Michigan goalie Brian Stewart in the crease for a power-play goal. A few moments earlier, Stewart had been stretching to stay fresh, but those preparations were for naught.
Stewart came into the game as Northern Michigan’s hot hand in net. The freshman entered last Friday night’s game against Ohio State in relief of senior Bill Zaniboni and proceeded to stand on his head Saturday and Sunday to allow the Wildcats to advance. He was not so acrobatic tonight.
The Wolverines struck twice more before the first stanza was over.
With three minutes remaining in the first period, freshman Chris Summers put Michigan ahead by two on his fourth goal of the season.
Junior Chad Kolarik won a faceoff in Michigan’s offensive zone and tipped the puck to sophomore Andrew Cogliano. The Woodbridge, Ont., native unleashed a slapshot that was blocked by the defense, and Summers slid the loose puck under Stewart’s pad for the tally.
Senior David Rohlfs scored Michigan’s third goal two minutes later. Senior T.J. Hensick skated around the offensive zone and slid a pass into a scramble near the far post. Rohfls muscled through the defense and poked it across the line. The goal wasn’t called at first, but the referees checked with the video and ruled it a goal.
The second period was defined by solid goaltending
After Northern Michigan forward Mike Sirota beat Michigan goalie Billy Sauer with a wrist shot less than two minutes into the second period, the sophomore netminder made some dramatic saves that tested his reflexes and nerves. In one sequence, he stuffed All-CCHA forward Mike Stantorelli from point-blank range.
Stewart stopped all 14 of the shots he faced in the period and rebounded nicely from a shaky first stanza.
It was a tightly contested, physical third period defined by a few penalties and minor altercations that closed the game. As the clock ticked toward zero, Northern Michigan played with more desperation and got the better chances late in the game, but Sauer stood strong.
The Walworth, N.Y., native turned away 21 of 22 shots in his first career playoff start. Offensively, Sauer contributed his first career assist on Hunwick’s first-period goal.
The lone goal of the third period was empty netter by Cogliano with less than a minute remaining.
Even though the teams each scored one goal in the final two periods, Michigan had the better chances on net and outshot the Wildcats for the game, 38-22.
These two teams will meet again Saturday night at 7:35 at Yost Ice Arena.