The No. 4 Michigan hockey team emerged from its locker room before Saturday’s game against Notre Dame wearing shirts with the team motto, “Burn the Boats,” prominently displayed.
“(Sophomore forward Luke) Moffatt brought it up this year,” said sophomore forward Derek DeBlois last month. “It has to do with the Vikings. When they would go to fight, they would burn their boats. No retreat, you just kind of lay all your chips on the table and fight until you win.”
If any unit took those words especially to heart during the sweep of the Fighting Irish, it was the Wolverine penalty killers and fifth-year senior netminder Shawn Hunwick.
Beginning with Michigan’s January split in South Bend, the Wolverines successfully killed all 15 of Notre Dame’s power plays they faced this season.
“It just shows how good our coaching staff is and how bad people want to work on the ice for us,” said senior forward David Wohlberg. “The penalty killers out there were getting in front of shots and doing everything they can to help out the team — that’s what makes teams go far.”
And the Fighting Irish man advantage is no slouch — Notre Dame takes few penalties and usually capitalizes on those of its opponents, but its power play became frustrated this weekend. Instead of paying for any of Michigan’s five penalties, the Wolverine penalty kill made a statement on each, throwing bodies in front of pucks and forcing the Fighting Irish out of the attacking third.
“It’s not surprising that they had a good power play,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “You look at their personnel and there is a team with two of the five or six top scorers in the league.”
Hunwick led the penalty kill’s dominating performance. Berenson consistently stresses that as Hunwick goes, so goes the rest of the penalty-kill unit. Despite a death in the family last week that caused him to miss a day of practice, Hunwick’s focus never wavered as he snatched pucks out of the air, allowing just two goals on the entire weekend.
He admitted it was a “tough week” for him and his family, but he kept his emotions in check, thwarting several Notre Dame breakaway attempts. And Hunwick rose to the occasion when his team needed him most — when the Fighting Irish had the personnel advantage.
But Hunwick was hardly the only Wolverine that caused Notre Dame’s power play to leave empty handed. Michigan racked up the blocked shots, sending puck after puck out of its defensive zone — much to Hunwick’s delight, as he received much needed rests. Saturday, Michigan’s leader in blocked shots came as a bit of a surprise — senior forward Luke Glendening. Usually, senior defenseman Greg Pateryn glides into the most flying pucks. This time, however, it was a total team effort.
That didn’t stop Berenson from saying Pateryn “blocked shots like a goalie.”
“Coming into the weekend, they were one of the better power plays in our league and our (penalty kill) did a great job,” Berenson said. “I thought our seniors really stepped up.”
The four members of the senior class, playing their last game at Yost Ice Arena, were instrumental in the penalty kill’s defining moments of the weekend. Clinging to a two-goal lead late in the game, the Wolverines took a couple of potentially disastrous penalties, including a rare one assessed to sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill. It was just his second of the season.
Instead of folding, Michigan looked invincible, and the Yost crowd rose to its feet to applaud the penalty kill’s efforts as Notre Dame was forced into a late timeout to regroup.
“It was still anyone’s game,” Berenson said. “We did that, whether it was blocking shots or winning faceoffs or getting the puck out.”
When the clock reached triple zeros, Michigan had blocked a total of 16 shots en route to earning its 23rd-consecutive appearance at Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals.
Though Berenson hopes the Wolverines will be conscientious of the penalties they take there, if they are forced to play a man down, all that’s left to do is burn the boats — no surrender, no retreat.