If you want to know why the Michigan hockey team lost on Friday against Western Michigan and won on Saturday, don’t look at the box score.

Sure, if you just want to know what happened, go ahead and look.

You’ll see the scores — a 3-2 defeat and a 5-2 victory for the Wolverines.

You’ll see that Michigan outshot the Broncos on Friday, and outshot them in the third period, too. You’ll see that the Broncos did the same to the Wolverines on Saturday.

But if you want to know why, don’t waste your time. If you want to understand why, catch the end of a Michigan hockey practice.

There, you’ll see something more.

You’ll see players skating lines — back and forth, back and forth — to exhaustion.

Maybe you’ll see A.J. Treais beating his linemates. More likely, you’ll see him in the back, trying to close the gap.

If you watched the way Michigan works on hustle or what Red Berenson just called “the details,” then you would’ve seen a familiar sight on Saturday.

Treais sprinted down the length of the ice with five minutes remaining as Michigan led 3-2 just like he was trying to catch his teammate in practice.

Treais had skated up to center ice when Kevin Lynch took the puck up the right side of Western Michigan’s goal, one-on-one with a defender.

“I was really far back in the play,” Treais said. “I thought he was just going to shoot it.”

So did everyone else in Yost Ice Arena.

But Lynch pulled up, and Treais kept on coming. Showing patience, Lynch skated with the puck behind the net, then snapped a pass to the speeding Treais for an easy goal.

Michigan took a 4-2 lead with five minutes remaining.

Game over.

Hockey, more than any other sport, is about work. The most common remedy to cure a loss is not “we need to play better,” it’s “we have to work harder.”

Skaters work on literal shifts. Players clock in and clock out on the fly — the only thing missing is the lunch pail.

Hockey isn’t basketball where one player can dominate. It isn’t football, where the team that executes best wins.

Life as a hockey player is life as a worker. Sometimes, you catch a bad bounce. Often, you fight. And you could have all the skill in the world, but if you don’t hustle you won’t win.

Legendary hockey writer Bob Verdi once wrote of the Stanley Cup-contending Bruins of the late 1970s that, “They show that the greatest ability is the ability to work. Their insignia should be a droplet of sweat.”

Sweat decided each game for Michigan. The teams entered the final frame in both games with the scored tied, and in each, one team asserted itself in crunch time. On Friday, the Broncos beat the Wolverines to each loose puck, won each fight in the corner and put more pressure on fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick.

“They just kept on pounding us down in our zone and outworking us,” said senior defenseman Greg Pateryn. “That’s just hustle and effort, it has nothing to do with skill.”

When the Broncos finally cracked the Michigan defense with one minute remaining, they didn’t do it through any set plays or dekes or fancy skating. They fought in front of the crease so they could ram the puck into the net.

“In the last 10 minutes of the game when the game was on the line, I thought we got outplayed and outworked,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson.

Little separated each team this series. The shot total for the series? Dead even. Western Michigan committed one more penalty.

On Saturday, Michigan worked harder. Worked harder than it had Friday. Worked harder than Western did Saturday.

Sophomore forward Derek DeBlois fought his way through defenders to score on a rebound for Michigan’s first goal. Freshman forward Zach Hyman dove to keep the puck in the attacking zone. Treais created his goal through hustle.

“We just worked harder to the get to the loose pucks and that kind of thing,” said freshman forward Alex Guptill, who scored a goal of his own on Saturday. “It’s little plays like that that end up into goals.”

At No. 4 in the nation, Western Michigan might just be the toughest CCHA team Michigan will face all season. Miami (Ohio) — Michigan’s next opponent — has struggled early and Notre Dame has lots of talent, but no team has asserted itself as the conference’s best.

So this weekend’s series was a good test for Michigan. The Wolverines aren’t any more skilled than Western Michigan, nor will they be against any of the nation’s other top teams.

When Michigan scores, it won’t score using stars. It will score using balance. The Wolverines found goals from players like Guptill and Mac Bennett — who scored his first two goals of the season this weekend — or Kevin Clare, who scored his first career goal simply because he had the awareness to take a shot after the goalie fell.

Berenson said that the game of hockey isn’t really about skill. He would know. Berenson established himself as one of Michigan’s greatest scorers ever, but he’d rather be known as an “honest” two-way player.

“I know there’s a little bit of physical talent and strength and conditioning and everything,” Berenson said. “(But) it’s all mental. The whole game is mental.”

Michigan won’t dominate any other quality foe. The Wolverines can go far, but only go as far as their hustle and work ethic take them.

And those are qualities you won’t find in a box score.

— Helfand also can’t be found in a box score. However, he can be reached at zhelfand@umich.edu or on Twitter @zhelfand.

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