KALAMAZOO — During the Michigan hockey team’s first series together in four weeks, it was individual players’ performances that stood out.
The hero on Saturday night was forward Brandon Kaleniecki, who compiled his second career hat trick in Michigan’s 6-5 win over Western Michigan at Lawson Ice Arena. The junior’s third goal of the night — which came on a power play with just 53 seconds left in the third period — proved to be the game winner. But Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t underestimate any of Kaleniecki’s lamp-lighters in their importance.
“Those are huge goals,” Berenson said of the hat trick.
The game-deciding tally came with Michigan at a one-man advantage. Senior Milan Gajic’s shot from the left circle and the rebound bounced to the right side of the net. Kaleniecki swung at the puck and knocked it in for the game’s final goal.
“I just saw the puck coming across and I took a whack at it and it got in there,” Kaleniecki said. “It felt great.”
Aside from the obvious impact of the game-winning score, Kaleniecki ignited a four-goal Michigan explosion during a stretch of less than three minutes in the middle of the second period. At the 11:13 mark, the junior took a pass from senior David Moss and one-timed the puck into the top right corner of the Broncos’ net. After a Chad Kolarik goal just 42 seconds later, Kaleniecki beat Western Michigan goalie Daniel Bellissimo five-hole on another pass from Moss.
Kaleniecki has been heating up as of late. After scoring just one goal in the first 11 games of the season, But Kaleniecki wasn’t the only Wolverine to put on a show over the weekend. Despite the fact that Michigan hadn’t played a game with all its key players since Dec. 11 (five major contributors played for the United States at the World Junior Championship over winter break), both Tambellini and Gajic turned in three-point performances against the Broncos on Friday at Yost Ice Arena. Tambellini had two goals and an assist, while Gajic added a goal and two helpers. T.J. Hensick scored twice and captain Eric Nystrom also had a pair of assists in the 6-4 Michigan win.
Without the team’s chemistry fully back to speed after the long break, the Wolverines relied largely on offensive talent to outscore Western Michigan in both games.
“We have a lot of guys that can score and it’s nice to see goal-scorers putting pucks in the net,” Berenson said after Saturday’s game. “That’s why we recruit these kids: because of their offensive skills. Then we try and make them into a good team that can check and score.”
Berenson was especially pleased with Hensick’s play. The sophomore had four total points — including Michigan’s first two goals on Friday — in the series after playing for the U.S. Junior team.
“(Hensick) is a special player,” Berenson said. “You can see why he means so much to our team. When we’re getting shots and chances, it seems like it takes someone like T.J. to put the puck in the net. Glad to have him back.”
When Bellissimo was pulled from the net with 1:42 left in Friday’s contest, Berenson put Hensick back on the ice for the chance at his first career hat trick at Michigan.
“(Berenson) put me out there with an empty net and I had chances, so it’s not like it’s his fault that I wasn’t out there,” Hensick said. “It was definitely my fault. I thought one was going to slip in, but it didn’t and those are the bounces.”