DETROIT Without four of its top seven scorers due to the World Junior Championship, the Michigan hockey team had to assume that it would struggle to find offense as it headed to the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 28 and 29.
Instead, the Wolverines put up 11 goals on 84 shots in their two tournament games. But the offensive explosion didn”t result in perfection.
Without forwards Mike Cammalleri, Eric Nystrom and Dwight Helminen as well as top defenseman Mike Komisarek, Michigan dropped its semifinal game to North Dakota, 5-4 in overtime. The Wolverines managed to recover with a 7-4 come-from-behind win over Michigan Tech to salvage a third-place finish in the tournament.
“Considering our team and lineup, our team played well and they played hard,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
If nothing else, the Wolverines found out that their offense is not as reliant on the four missing players as it appeared to be earlier in the season.
Against Michigan Tech, the Wolverines got 10 total points (six goals, four assists) from their freshmen, including a hat trick by forward Michael Woodford who had not scored a goal prior to that point in the season.
In both games, Michigan was able to overcome two-goal deficits. The Wolverines trailed North Dakota 3-1 at the end of the second period before pushing the game to overtime. Against Michigan Tech, Michigan fell behind 3-1 and 4-2 before running off five unanswered goals for the victory.
But the games turned into up-and-down contests in which the numerous opportunities created by Michigan were met by counter attacks from the opposition.
The Wolverines” offensive play led to several odd-man rushes for North Dakota and Michigan Tech.
“We didn”t do a good job of keeping the puck in (the offensive zone), and we had a few turnovers,” forward Jed Ortmeyer said.
The theme continued this past weekend against Notre Dame. The Wolverines peppered Notre Dame goalie Morgan Cey with shots en route to a 3-3 tie on Friday and a 2-1 win Saturday.
Unfortunately for Michigan, the defensive breakdowns became costly again on Friday night, as Notre Dame rallied from a late two-goal deficit in the third period to steal a point from the Wolverines.
The absence of Komisarek and Cammalleri the leaders of the defensive and offensive attacks, respectively led to defensive struggles for Michigan against all three opponents.
On a positive note the Wolverines came out of the four-game stretch over winter break having discovered a great deal more offensive weapons.
There are still defensive issues to work out, but the return of the four aforementioned players should eliminate a lot of the hectic back-and-forth play that surfaced. In addition, the offense fired on all cylinders over the break, and when the World Junior participants return, they should find an offensive balance that wasn”t present when they left.
“All the guys stepped it up, and Coach said when he looked around the room (after the win over Michigan Tech), not too many guys didn”t have a good game, and that”s what you want. You want every player to put their best foot forward,” goalie Kevin O”Malley said after he picked up his first victory of the year.