Michigan’s domination of Western Michigan in last weekend’s series may have looked easy on paper, but it was bruising on the ice.
Senior Chad Kolarik and freshman Max Pacioretty both left Friday’s game early after big Bronco checks left them battered. Kolarik came back Saturday to score four goals, but Pacioretty was sidelined for the second game.
The hits on the two first-liners were typical of Western Michigan, a team known for bullying its opponents and drawing rough penalties. Their physical play didn’t help Michigan in its efforts to spend fewer minutes in the box.
Michigan, the nation’s sixth-most penalized team, has had a total of 59 more total penalty minutes than their opponents. The statistics seem to show it’s played almost an entire game of their 22 games played shorthanded. But without factoring in its combined seven 10-minute and game misconducts, which inflate penalty minute statistics but don’t affect the number of men on the ice, it’s been shorthanded just six more times than its opponents.
“I can’t tell you that we’re 100 percent at fault, but we’re definitely part of the problem,” Berenson said. “Sometimes, you play teams who think they can run Michigan out of the rink, and then when we stand up, we end up getting as many penalties as they do.”
Western Michigan was one of those teams. The Wolverines were in the box 13 times to the Broncos’ 12, and had a hard time resisting cheap shots. Freshman Chad Langlais and junior Travis Turnbull both drew penalties for roughing after the whistle.
Langlais’s penalty came in the third period Friday, when the Wolverines were up 5-1 and the Broncos were playing frustrated. When Langlais and Western Michigan forward Brian Bicek were torn apart and led to the box, the Yost Arena crowd started the “sore losers” chant in full force.
Regardless of the motivation for the fight, Berenson said the penalty was simply unnecessary.
“We shouldn’t be involved after the whistle,” Berenson said. “That whistle goes and the game stops. Period. No matter what the other team does. When we’re playing our best, we turn our head the other way and that’s it.”
After Saturday’s game, another blowout where the Wolverines were often antagonized after the whistle, sophomore Chris Summers called the chippy play “stupid”.
“Teams like (Western Michigan) are going to try to drag us under, so we’re making sure guys stay clear of that,” Summers said.
Though Michigan has been in the box more than its opponents this season, the team has actually had fewer penalties than at this point last year. Through 22 games in 2006-07, the Wolverines had tallied almost one more penalty per game than they have this season.
But it’s unfair to compare the two years’ penalty statistics to decide which team was more mature or more aggressive. The Wolverines’ time in the box, much of which has come from sticking up for their teammates, can be credited to the team chemistry that has accounted for their almost unprecedented play to date.
“They’re two different teams,” Turnbull said. “This team, this year, can only probably be described as a tight-knit family. Last year, we were real close, but we just didn’t have that camaraderie.”