With the nation’s third-best powerplay coming into Yost Ice Arena this weekend to take on Michigan’s top-ranked penalty kill, one would be led to believe that CCHA referee Mark Wilkins’ whistle would have a major impact on the series.
What one saw was 52 penalties totaling 153 minutes over two games for everything from facemasking to playing with illegal equipment.
Any type of flow Saturday’s game might have had was thrown out the window when a slew of penalties took the Wildcats out of the game in the first period. Four Northern Michigan penalties were called in a span of seven minutes.
The Wildcats did well killing a John Miller cross-checking penalty, clearing the puck three times, but that was as good as it was going to get. Ten seconds after Northern Michigan’s first kill, defenseman Juha Alen received a holding penalty for taking sophomore Eric Nystrom down in the Wildcat zone. The Wolverines then took advantage when Andrew Ebbett taped in a rebound and sophomore Milan Gaijc scored a little over a minute later.
“We just lost focus,” Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said.
Then penalties by Mike Stutzel and Jimmy Jackson left Northern Michigan two men down, giving David Moss plenty of space to deflect the puck in from right in front. Thanks to Moss’ tally, the Wolverines’ powerplay scored twice on three shots
“(The powerplay) has not been a strength of ours,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But tonight we had some confidence.”
Everything broke loose in the second period when a whopping 82 minutes of penalties were called, and Michigan went on the powerplay six times. After a goal by senior captain Jed Ortmeyer put the Wolverines up four, the Wildcats received five consecutive penalties, throwing away any chance of a comeback.
“We took a lot of penalties, and we have to be much more in control,” Kyle said. “A lot of those guys were key guys, and they can’t be in the box.”
The whistles hit their zenith when the tripping of Northern Michigan goaltender Tuomas Tarkki set off an all-out brawl to the left of the netminder. One of the biggest fights of the Michigan season put John Shouneyia against Geoff Waugh, Brandon Rogers against Alan Swanson and Danny Richmond against Juha Alen. Waugh and Rogers received rare facemasking penalties, while Alen, Swanson, Shouneyia and Richmond all got 10-minute misconducts. In all, Wilkins called 64 minutes worth of penalties. Berenson felt that all the calls were necessary in an attempt to maintain order.
“When a referee sees a game that’s a little lopsided, he has to make a decision,” Berenson said. “Does he want to let things go or does he want to call them? You have to protect the winning team, and you can’t let them be injured by high hits.”
With all the time it spent in the box, Northern Michigan was never able to get its powerplay going; the Wildcats went 0-for-9 this weekend with an extra man while generating few opportunities. Michigan’s penalty kill is now ahead of Cornell by a whopping 2.2 percent for tops in the nation.
“Part of it was just keeping them off-balance,” Michigan forward and penalty killer Dwight Helminen said. “You have to be on them and keep them honest on the powerplay.”