BUFFALO, N.Y. – In the end, the injury bug came back to haunt Michigan.
Back on Dec. 7, forward Michael Woodford said that it could be a “scary thing” if the Wolverines ever got everyone healthy. The first half of the Wolverines’ season was plagued by broken bones and torn ligaments.
During the month-long run to the Frozen Four, though, Michigan was healthy and playing with its best roster. For those few weeks, it looked like Woodford’s prediction would hold true.
The team skated past the rest of the CCHA for another conference tournament crown. At the Midwest regional, Maine and high-powered Colorado College were no match for a healthy Michigan.
But in the most important game of the season, two of the team’s regulars were struck by the bug. Milan Gajic left last night’s contest early with an injury to his leg and didn’t return. Throughout the second and third periods, alternate captain Andy Burnes was visibly hobbled by cramping in both of his legs. It’s an injury that the Battle Creek native has had to deal with for most of his life.
“I get going and my legs just lock up,” Burnes said. “I don’t have any control over it.”
The pain was so bad that Burnes had to sit out a number of shifts late in the game to try and get his legs to loosen up.
“In an overtime game especially, (it) will kind of take its toll on you,” Burnes said. “You can’t sit there and watch your team play without you. You definitely don’t want to do that because this is it, this is your last chance.”
With Gajic’s injury, Michigan was forced to use defenseman J.J. Swistak up front alongside David Moss and Jason Ryznar. Swistak was a forward most of his career, but was recently switched to defenseman to help add some depth to Michigan’s depleted blueline.
“It was a chance for him to play more,” said assistant coach Billy Powers of Swistak’s move up front. “Against a team like Minnesota, for someone who hasn’t played defense much, they’re too quick and (there’s) too much transition. You don’t want him out in a vulnerable spot, where you feel bad about him making a mistake.”
Even after losing their regular linemate in Gajic, Ryznar and Moss gave Minnesota problems. Gophers’ coach Don Lucia said that they were his biggest concern heading into the extra frame because of their physical play behind the net.
Powers was pleased with the way the remaining defensemen held up. He said that he actually thought the Wolverines gained some more legs heading into overtime.
Burnes agreed that energy was not a factor.
“This time of year, this kind of hockey, you’re just going on pure adrenaline anyway,” Burnes said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re playing with three (defensemen), the guys were ready to go, (and) knew what it took.”