KALAMAZOO — While the boxscores from the Michigan hockey team’s weekend series split with Western Michigan might not show it, the Wolverines dominated offensive play from Friday’s opening faceoff until Saturday’s final buzzer.
Michigan took twice as many shots as the Broncos on Friday and managed to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone for most of the night. Bronco goalie Riley Gill was consistently under pressure and had to make 33 saves to keep the game close.
But Michigan only had sophomore forward Carl Hagelin’s second-period goal to show for it. Western Michigan played tight man-to-man defense and frequently tied up Wolverine forwards trying to handle the puck in the slot.
Those same Western Michigan defensemen were nowhere to be found Saturday, and Michigan’s offense revived.
The Wolverines continued to charge through the slot and attack Gill within 15 feet of the crease. But this time, the defenders were routinely caught out of position, and whatever momentum the Broncos carried into Saturday quickly evaporated.
Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into Saturday’s contest. Sophomore forward Louie Caporusso said David Wohlberg’s tally 14 seconds into the game left Gill visibly frustrated for the remainder of the night.
“When we go out and take those hits on the first shift, and then we go down and score, then that confidence kicks in,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I just think we played harder (than on Friday).”
Perhaps rattled by the sudden multi-goal deficit, Western Michigan’s defense seemed a step slower and generally overwhelmed.
On top of that, Michigan’s forwards were more effective establishing position in front of the net than on Friday, and the final numbers reflect that.
Caporusso blew the game open with three consecutive third-period goals — his first career hat trick. The feat came courtesy of a one-timer from the right circle through Gill’s five-hole and two quick shots in the slot with surprisingly clear shooting lanes.
Saturday night was arguably Michigan’s best offensive performance of the season. The 5-0 win matched the Wolverines’ highest margin of victory this year. Compared to Friday, Michigan played with a heightened sense of urgency that Berenson said hasn’t been there enough this season.
“I think our team is slowly realizing how hard they have to play every night to be a competitive team,” Berenson said Saturday. “Maybe we didn’t understand that from last year because we had a lot of success last year. You forget how hard you had to work to be successful last year. I think we’re starting to get it.”
Berenson credited Saturday night’s scoring outburst to success battling for loose pucks and converting on second chances near the crease. The Broncos’ defensive intensity Saturday wasn’t close to the level it was Friday. And they paid for it.
On Michigan’s fourth and fifth goals, Western Michigan was caught watching sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj race for a loose puck behind the net. On both occasions, Caporusso received a lightning-quick centering pass in the slot, and quickly tallied his team-leading 11th and 12th goals of the season.
Michigan’s loss on Friday night was probably the most surprising of this season. The Broncos entered the weekend winless in their last nine games and had lost five straight to the Wolverines. Hagelin said Friday that the Broncos were a frustrating team to play and lamented the Wolverines’ lack of luck around the net.
But Michigan received a little more of that Saturday. Their execution in the opposing zone was vastly improved from Friday, while Western Michigan’s lack of firepower — the Broncos rank 10th in the CCHA in scoring offense — made a potential comeback impossible.
“We just made it very clear (before Saturday’s game) that we had to come in here with a sense of confidence and a sense of desperation,” Berenson said.