DENVER – In just one week, the Michigan penalty kill went from perfect to porous.
The unit went 6-for-6 against Notre Dame in the CCHA Championship last week.
But facing North Dakota in the West Regional Semifinals Saturday night, that same unit allowed five goals on eight power-play opportunities.
After Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first minute that put the Fighting Sioux on their heels, junior Chad Kolarik took a tripping penalty with more than 17 minutes remaining in the opening period. On the ensuing power play, North Dakota’s Chris Porter tipped in a deflected shot in front of the net and helped his team regain its composure.
Most of the Sioux’s power-play goals came on point shots and deflections like Porter’s first goal, instead of fluid set plays that require precision timing.
“We don’t have to always be pretty,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “Tonight, our power play was effective by just doing the simple things.”
And it didn’t take long for them to do the simple things well.
All but one of the Sioux’s power-play goals came less than a minute into the penalty, and even that one took 1:01. In some instances, the PA announcer hadn’t finished announcing the penalty before North Dakota had already scored.
Seemingly all went wrong for the defense. The Michigan penalty-killers struggled to block pucks from the point. Michigan goalie Billy Sauer had trouble seeing the pucks. The defenders around the net failed to clear loose pucks out of trouble.
For the game, Michigan had three fewer power-play chances but had the man advantage 2:30 more than North Dakota.
Not a storybook ending: Down by two goals with just more than 12 minutes left to play, senior alternate captain T.J. Hensick was sent to the penalty box for a 10-minute misconduct penalty, but nobody in the stands or press box knew why the penalty was called.
“The ref was chirping at me more than I was chirping at him,” Hensick said. “I don’t want to get anybody in trouble. I didn’t really say much to him except at the end when I was getting sick of hearing what he was saying.”
The Hobey Baker Award finalist was forced to sit helplessly in the penalty box for 10 of the final minutes of his college career while his team struggled to create any offense against North Dakota’s stifling trap.
It was just the third 10-minute penalty of Hensick’s career, which made the Howell native question the timing of the call.
“For the ref to do what he did, to take me out of the game for 10 minutes in a critical situation, I thought was extremely unlikely to happen on the ref’s part,” Hensick said. “I guess the ref was trying to take control of the game. I think he should have done it early on and often.”
After the officials called 14 penalties in the first 40 minutes of play, Hensick’s penalty and a minor penalty on North Dakota with more than three minutes remaining were the lone penalties in the third period.
“I think it’s important when you get to this level that everyone understand what the standard is,” Berenson said.
CCHA success: For years, many in the college hockey world have described the CCHA as a weak conference.
After a few down years in the NCAA Tournament, the CCHA more than held its own this weekend.
The Wolverines were the lone CCHA team not to advance past the first round.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan State knocked off Boston University on Friday and intra-conference rival Notre Dame on Saturday to book a ticket to St. Louis. The top-seeded Irish beat Alabama-Huntsville in double overtime on Friday to advance to its game against the Spartans.
In Manchester, N.H., Miami upset top-seed New Hampshire on Saturday, but dropped its regional final game 4-0 yesterday.
Overall, CCHA teams were 4-4 this weekend.
Billy’s baby boy: The Michigan hockey family grew this week when assistant coach Billy Powers’s wife, Mary Jo, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Shane Anthony on Wednesday.
Powers flew separately from the team and arrived at the Pepsi Center on Saturday. He looked exhausted outside of the locker room after the game. The only sleep he got since the birth was on the flight to Denver.