BOWLING GREEN — The No. 3 Michigan hockey team was in desperate need of a win Saturday night at BGSU Ice Arena after a massive letdown loss on Friday.
If you told Michigan coach Red Berenson that his team would have to kill nine penalties, he probably would’ve thought the series-saving victory would be out of reach.
Instead, that’s exactly what the Wolverines did. When the dust settled and the revolving doors to the penalty box finally slammed shut, Michigan had used a crucial three-goal third period to earn a 3-0 shutout win in the regular-season finale against Bowling Green.
The Wolverines (15-9-4-1 CCHA, 21-11-4 overall) spent so much time down a skater that Berenson began to lose track of how many times his penalty kill did the trick.
“We didn’t expect to kill — how many penalties?” Berenson said. “Eight or nine penalties. But I thought our team played harder (than on Friday).”
It was nine penalties, compared to three the night before.
On Friday, Michigan’s offense fell silent after a quick start. Freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe scored on the game’s first shift, just 38 seconds into the first period, but the Wolverines surrendered the equalizer just six seconds later. The back-and-forth nature of the game would continue until the Falcons scored two unanswered in the final frame to pull off the upset by a 4-3 margin.
On the game-winning goal, a rare mistake from sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill cost Michigan dearly. Merrill collected the puck in his own zone and as he started skating up the ice, Bowling Green forward Bryce Williamson swiped the puck from Merrill’s blad and fired a shot at fifth-year senior netminder Shawn Hunwick from between the circles.
With little time to react, Hunwick was beat — and so were the Wolverines.
“You don’t really expect Jonny Merrill to get stick-lifted like that,” Hunwick said. “I was probably thrown a little bit off-guard.”
But on Saturday, Michigan came out looking airtight defensively. Save for a few odd-man rushes that Hunwick stopped in their tracks, the Wolverines controlled play, but failed to score at the other end.
Merrill made the play of the first period, taking a puck off the goal line. A Falcon forward entered the crease, dangling the puck in front of Hunwick. Instead of surrendering the goal as he did the previous night, Merrill was there to wipe it away.
Fruitless power plays on both sides infested the second period as well. Michigan and Bowling Green (5-19-4-3, 10-21-5) exchanged trips to the box multiples times, but neither man advantage could find room. Rather, hot goaltending kept the game scoreless entering the final frame.
After the teams entered the locker room for the second intermission still in search of the game’s first goal, Berenson was adamant that the elusive goal would come, provided the team keeps up the hard work at the other end.
“I told them (that) we just have to continue to play better defensively,” Berenson said. “We can’t give them — they had two or three outnumbered rushes in the second period that could’ve been goals.”
Five minutes into the third period, Michigan earned a faceoff in the attacking zone. Junior forward David Wohlberg lined up to take it but was ejected from the circle and replaced by freshman forward Alex Guptill.
Guptill won the puck right to Wohlberg’s stick, and he flung a shot from the top of the circle past Bowling Green goaltender Andrew Hammond. The tally would prove to be the game-winning goal.
Just three minutes later, Michigan extended its lead with a goal from junior forward Kevin Lynch near the crease. Lynch scored for the first time since his overtime winner against Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 11.
Hunwick earned every save of his fifth shutout of the season. After allowing a couple goals he doesn’t usually allow in Friday’s loss to the Falcons, he was resilient and instrumental in keeping Bowling Green from capitalizing on the frequent Michigan penalties.
Sophomore defenseman Mac Bennett trekked down the ice and sealed the victory with an empty netter for the third goal.
The win secured second place in the CCHA for the Wolverines. Michigan will next take the ice in the quarterfinals of the conference playoffs the weekend of March 9-11.