It’s not often that the Wolverines learn a lesson from the Spartans.
Two weeks ago, Michigan State scored back-to-back goals with a two-man advantage to beat the Michigan hockey team in overtime. Michigan coach Red Berenson took note.
And after No. 6 Michigan’s 4-3 victory on Saturday, in which it killed off a five-on-three late in the third period, the Wolverines proved how much they learned in two weeks.
“We had to do some serious work on it a couple of weeks ago to get our players to understand how to handle that five-on-three,” Berenson said. “Then it’s a matter of a sense of urgency.”
With about three minutes left, and Michigan clinging to a one-goal lead Saturday, the crowd erupted. A day after the Wolverines beat the Nanooks 2-0, the student section jumped up and down like a fishing bobber in the water.
A slight rumble took over the building as the rest stomped their feet. The cheers weren’t for a goal or a save: only a simple clear down the ice.
Facing 57 seconds of a two-man disadvantage, the puck squirted towards the boards near the faceoff circle. Senior Chad Langlais dove and swatted the puck down the ice. The Nanooks came back into Michigan territory — this time having just a five-on-four power play — and found themselves with a shooting line from the point.
Senior forward Carl Hagelin charged out and dove to block the shot. Langlais quickly found the loose puck and sent it down the ice — increasing the roar of the already raucous Yost Ice Arena crowd.
“We were all pretty tired but when we heard the crowd every time we dumped it in their zone, we went crazy just like the crowd,” Hagelin said.
The body-flying, back-against-the-wall defense was the redeeming act of a team that struggled in their own zone the whole weekend. Michigan (14-4-1-0 CCHA, 17-6-4 overall) gave up 76 shots during the two games — the most in a two game stretch this season. Senior goalie Shawn Hunwick was forced to make a number saves on odd-man rushes after the Wolverines turned the puck over when breaking out.
But in both games, Michigan bailed itself out with other aspects of its play — Friday night it was Hunwick and on Saturday it was the Wolverines’ offense.
After Friday’s game Berenson said Hunwick had “earned this shutout more than he should have to.”
With the game 0-0, Alaska’s Joe Sova jumped out of the penalty box into an immediate breakaway. Hunwick made the second period stop to keep the game scoreless. He followed it up with a number of stops on point-blank shots to preserve the lead.
Saturday, the Wolverines scored four goals in the first two periods, before playing more conservatively in the third. After freshman defenseman Jon Merrill scored the first goal of the game, the teams alternated scoring. Every time the Nanooks (7-9-4-2, 10-10-4) scored, Michigan responded within the next six minutes, despite launching 17 fewer shots on net.
Senior forward Scooter Vaughan’s shot off the faceoff late in the second period — beating Alaska goalie Scott Greenham far side — was the deciding marker. The goal made up for a shorthanded marker given up, in which a turnover allowed Alaska’s Cody Kunyk to take a pass and out-skate two Wolverines to the net.
“We didn’t come back hard enough so they got some three-on-twos,” Hagelin said. “In the second period we turned the puck over a lot on our blue line and obviously you’re going to get chances if you turn the puck over.”
Michigan also had its fair share of luck. Alaska had a goal called off in the third period Saturday for goaltender interference and had a couple more shots go through the crease. Early in Friday’s game, another turnover created a 2-on-0 for Alaska, but after Nanook forward Kevin Petovello deked Hunwick, he hit the side of the open net.
The Wolverines extended their winning streak to five games, finding a way to win both games despite poor play in their own zone.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Berenson said. “You’re playing to win the game. You’ve got to find a way to win and you want all your players to play well, but if enough of our players play well enough … We had a lot of guys playing hard, but our team didn’t play as well it needed to.”