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Michigan coach Red Berenson hopes Milan Gajic has learned his lesson.
“I think so,” Berenson said of the sophomore, who was recently suspended eight days for poor academics. “We’ll see if he remembers.”
After missing two games and a week of practice, Gajic returned to the lineup this weekend and scored his first two goals of the season. Gajic’s first-period goal Saturday was all the Wolverines needed in a 3-0 victory and series sweep of Lake Superior State.
Berenson hopes Gajic never forgets his week away from a hockey — a week when he couldn’t even watch his own team practice. Instead, he had to workout at an on-campus recreation center.
“It killed me big time,” Gajic said.
A high-scoring player for the Burnaby Bulldogs in the British Columbia Hockey League, Gajic struggled defensively in his freshman year at Michigan. He still hasn’t gelled perfectly with Berenson’s system and the recent suspension just set back his efforts.
Saturday, he botched a wide open breakaway, of which Berenson said after the game, “you have to make those.” But he was plus-2 on the night and scored the crucial first goal off a feed from Jason Ryznar, who returned to the lineup after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury.
The past few days “have helped me with my confidence,” said Gajic, who tallied 22 points in 46 games last season.
Michigan took a 2-0 lead in the second period on the power play as freshman defenseman Danny Richmond hit freshman forward Andrew Ebbett on a back door play.
“We can’t score, and we give up back door goals,” LSSU coach Frank Anzalone said. “We have to get faster. It stinks to lose every game.”
LSSU (3-9-0, 0-8-0 CCHA) remained winless in league play, but came close to stealing a game from Michigan like it did in last year’s playoffs.
Down 2-0 in the third period, the Lakers still had a chance when Michigan’s Michael Woodford checked David Kellington from behind and received a five-minute major and a game misconduct with 7:38 remaining.
About halfway through the long power play, Anzalone pulled goaltender Matt Violin. But Eric Werner scored an empty-netter with 1:53 left to put the game away.
“Our penalty killing and goaltending maybe had to be the difference,” Berenson said. “I think we struggled at times with their forecheck and their trap.”
Violin had 24 saves for LSSU. Al Montoya stopped 21 shots for Michigan (8-1-1, 4-0-1). Montoya has given up two goals or less in eight of 10 games this season, but the Wolverines have faced the easy portion of their schedule.
“These games are supposed to prepare us for Notre Dame, Ferris State and Northern Michigan,” Montoya said.
Lake Superior, which has 12 freshmen, played without sophomores Bo Cheeseman (flu) and Ryan Reid (undisclosed). Michigan forward Joe Kautz was a healthy scratch and did not get to face his brother Mike Kautz, a freshman defenseman on the Lakers.
Anzalone’s 15-year old son, Francis, did the color commentary for LSSU radio this weekend. Francis hopes to be any ESPN analyst someday.
“He’s a lot better at what he does than I am at what I do,” joked Frank Anzalone.