MARQUETTE – Michigan freshman Brandon Naurato’s teammates say he has the hardest shot on the team. Ironically, he notched his first career two-goal game on Saturday night with two weaker shots that found their ways through Northern Michigan goaltender Bill Zaniboni and into the back of the net. Naurato’s second goal gave No. 2 Michigan a 4-3 overtime victory against the Wildcats, completing a sweep that began with Friday night’s 3-1 win.
“Oddly enough, I think if you ranked the shots on our team, Brandon Naurato has the best shot on the team,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But, these weren’t his two best shots. Maybe (Zaniboni) knew him and expected a better shot and for that reason missed them. They were timely goals that show one thing – get your shots on the net, and you never know what will happen.”
Naurato lofted in the game-winner from just inside the blue line with 3:39 remaining. After the puck bounced through several Wildcats into the open ice, Naurato reacted to the cry of freshman teammate Andrew Cogliano, who quickly urged Naurato to throw the puck toward the net.
“I heard Cogliano yelling when I got the puck,” Naurato said. “So I was just trying to shoot it to the far side, hoping to get a rebound.”
Much to Naurato’s surprise, the shot found its way into the short side of the net.
“(My first reaction was) ‘How’d that go in?'” Naurato said. “I just tried getting that last one on net, and it was just one of those fluke things that goes in.”
Naurato’s first goal of the evening was just as surprising. After serving a five-minute major penalty for forward Travis Turnbull, who, along with forward Jason Bailey was one of two Wolverines given a game misconduct during the second period on Saturday, Naurato picked up an open puck at the Northern Michigan blue line that slid through with the aid of junior Jason Dest and freshman Tim Miller. After he crossed the blue line, Naurato wristed a shot toward Zaniboni that bounced off of his trapper and into the net – a shocking turn of events considering the dozens of big saves that Zaniboni made on the weekend.
After Naurato’s goal tied the game at two, Michigan notched its sole power play goal in ten tries when Matt Hunwick found freshman Jack Johnson open between the circles for an easy tally, giving the Wolverines a 3-2 lead. While a 1-for-10 showing on the power play seems a far cry from the national-best 33-percent clip heading into the weekend, the stat seems less woeful when the 10 chances added up to just 12:37 of time on the power play. It was the 11th-straight game in which Michigan scored a power play goal. Johnson’s goal came sandwiched between the two major penalties given to Turnbull and Bailey, both of which were killed off by the Wolverines, giving Michigan a huge momentum boost.
“I think our team really rallied around the five-minute kills,” Berenson said. “That seemed to get us going, and we played good hockey.”
But in the third, Michigan’s penalty kill cracked and gave up the tying goal after senior Brandon Kaleniecki was whistled for tripping. As the Northern Michigan fans began booing their power play unit when it couldn’t manage a shot through to Sauer in the first minute, Wildcat forward Dirk Southern found senior Andrew Contois in the slot. Contois promptly turned and put it past Sauer before Sauer had a chance to react, tying the game at three with 12 minutes remaining.
In the closing minutes of regulation, Northern Michigan continued to put pressure on Sauer, but the freshman stood tall – turning aside several chances from point blank range, including a last-ditch effort with 12 seconds remaining. Northern Michigan junior Rob Lehtinen was impeded when defenseman Jason Dest made a great play to force a manageable shot for Sauer and another where a heads-up play in front of the net by junior David Rohlfs cleared the puck out of the Michigan zone.
“(Sauer) gave us a chance to win,” Berenson said. “That’s what it came down to. He made save after save on some great scoring chances, otherwise the game might have gone the other way.”
Once the game made it to overtime, the Wolverines managed to control the puck for the majority of the time and easily broke up the Wildcats’ chances, giving Naurato the chance to nail down the win.
On Friday night, the Wolverines pulled out a 3-1 victory, led by alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki’s power play goal, his first goal in four games. The goal helped to relieve some of the tension that built up during his slump.
“Obviously you get a little frustrated when you’re not producing like you want to,” Kaleniecki said. “It was nice to get one. Anytime I can help out the team, it means a lot.”