After senior Eric Werner’s overtime game-winning goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Notre Dame and the subsequent pile-on celebration, the seniors — instead of heading straight to the locker room — took one last victory lap around Yost Ice Arena. The group circled the ice and thanked the pep band, the season ticket holders and finally the raucous student section.
Then, senior captain Eric Nystrom skated to one side of the exit, and senior Milan Gajic settled on the opposite side. One-by-one, the seniors filed out, never to play again in front of the packed arena.
Nystrom and Gajic congratulated their classmates and even waited for the equipment managers to leave the ice before they took one final wave. Finally, the pair stepped off the ice, hugged and headed to the locker room.
“I tried to block it out as much as I could during the game,” Gajic said. “But, once Werner scored that goal, it pretty much hit me right away. Skating around with the student section going, ‘Thank you, seniors’ and with the band going nuts — it was special. There will never be a place like this again in my life.”
Last weekend, the seniors were honored on senior night in their regular-season finale against Bowling Green, but Saturday was really the final game at Yost. And it was no surprise which players soaked it in the longest.
“We’re always the last two off the ice,” Nystrom said. “But it was a little different tonight because it was the last time we’d ever play a game here and it’s sad. We didn’t want to ever step off the ice. It’s been a hell of a run, but it’s not over yet, and that’s what it was like. We may not play at Yost again, but we still got Joe Louis Arena, which is a home away from home for us.”
Nystrom understands how lucky he’s been to have had four years playing in what is widely considered as the best arena for college hockey in the nation.
“There will never be another place to play like Yost Ice Arena,” Nystrom said. “Whether it’s in the NHL or not, it’s just such a unique place, and I’m so fortunate and humbled to be able to play at a place like this.”
Hat-trick?: On Friday in the third period, Gajic gave the crowd another reason to cheer. He slipped behind the defense and skated in on Irish goalie Rory Walsh. Gajic put the puck past Walsh and scored what the crowd thought was his third goal of the game. The Yost faithful celebrated and chucked their headwear onto the ice.
But Gajic’s goal was actually his second of the game because a goal that he was rewarded with in the second period was later rewarded to Michael Woodford.
“The guys were joking (about the hats),” Gajic said. “Ever since we’ve been here, it was the most hats that have ever come on a hat trick, and I didn’t even get one. Me and Woody both whacked at it, and it went (in). That’s all that matters.”
Notes: Michigan is currently on a season-best eight-game winning streak. It is Michigan’s longest winning streak since last season’s eight-game streak from Dec. 28, 2003 to Feb. 6, 2004 … Eric Werner extended his career-best point streak to eight games with his game-winning overtime goal. He has two goals and 11 assists in the span.