Saturday night’s game at the Berry Events Center featured the Michigan team that was expected the night before. After they fell 2-0 to Northern Michigan Friday, the Wolverines knew they had to come back with better plays up their sleeves.
Not only were their plays better, so were their puckhandling, passing and shots.
“It’s early in the season,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “You need these games to get better. We lost the game last night and you want to bounce back and feel better and give a better effort and it shows up in everything you do. You’re a little more focused on your passing, shooting, checking, the whole game.”
“Michigan came out and wanted to prove they’re a good team. They knocked us around a bit, skated hard, and their efforts show,” Wildcat assistant captain Nick Sirota said.
The game picked up at 14:57 when Michigan’s Louie Caporusso had a penalty shot against Wildcat goalie Brian Stewart after being tripped on a breakaway. Caporusso deked the puck and shot it stick-side, where it met Stewart’s blocker.
“We were disappointed with last night’s game,” Berenson said. “We had to bounce back tonight with a better effort and we got that. [Netminder Bryan] Hogan had a good game. He gave us chances early in the first period when Northern had a flurry of scoring chances and he kicked them out.”
Just 1:46 into the second period, Michigan’s Matt Rust scored the night’s first goal, a shot that rolled over Stewart’s shoulder and fell into the net behind him. Carl Hagelin and Aaron Palushaj had the assists.
Michigan extended the lead to two at 2:29 when Brian Lebler gave the puck to David Wholberg behind the net. Wholberg outmanned Wildcat defensemen Erik Gustafsson and sent the puck forward to Danny Fardig, who one-timed it into the net.
“They’re good,” Wildcat coach Walt Kyle said. “They can make plays from behind our net and we knew that going into this. You have to hammer it right and we didn’t make some of the plays we needed to make.”
“We got a break on the first goal and that helped us get another right away,” Berenson said. “That was huge. I think we got the breaks tonight that we never got last night. You saw how important that first goal is to the game. If Northern got up by one again it could have been a long night for us.
“It was just one of those games where we won a couple battles behind the net and threw them out front. It’s not something we practice but it’s something that makes sense if you can get the puck behind the other team’s net and throw it out. Our guys were smart enough to be there. They were good plays but good hard work, too.”
During a scrum in front of the net, the puck was pushed behind Hogan at 16:58. The credit went to Wildcats Andrew Cherniwchan, Billy Smith and Erik Gustafsson. The shots on goal were even at 17.
The Wolverines took their two-goal lead back at 10:33 when Rust put the puck past Stewart glove-side. The assists went to Carl Hagelin and Palushaj.
“I got set up on both of my goals from Palushaj and Hagelin,” Rust said. “They both battled hard down low and fed me up front. Palushaj made a great play and the puck was just sitting there and I was able to get it in.”
Michigan scored the game winner at 10:51. With the puck going across the ice, Stewart went to the right side of the crease. Palushaj stood out front and backhanded the puck to Rust, who waited next to the net and put it in with ease to make the score 4-1.
“My line had three goals but it was our defense that made it,” Palushaj said. “On this play, I saw Rust breaking the net and I turned around and backhanded him the puck across the net. I’ve done it a few times before and I’m glad it worked out.”
The Wildcats didn’t give up. At 15:24 Derek May scored from the center of the left faceoff circle with assists from Gregor Hanson and Jared Brown. The puck went through Hogan’s five-hole and tied up the shots at 24 apiece.
“On the bench, being down 4-2, it was important to keep the guys’ spirit up,” Sirota said. “Two shots and the game can be tied so we can’t give up.”
At 17:26 Michigan’s Travis Turnbull and Northern Michigan’s TJ Miller went to the box for fighting. During the resulting four-on-four the Wildcats pulled Stewart, which proved effective when Nick Sirota shot the puck from outside the right faceoff circle and between Hogan’s legs. Gustafsson and Brown had the assists to bump the score to 4-3 in Michigan’s favor.
As the clock wound down the Wildcats hit two posts, but with 30 seconds left Caporusso hit Northern Michigan’s empty net to give the Wolverines a final score of 5-3, splitting the series.
“The building was incredible tonight,” Kyle said. “Even at 4-1 it was ‘Go Cats Go!’ and we get the next one, 4-2, and the place is going crazy. The fans kept us in the game tonight. I’m really proud of our guys. I thought we played well all night. We had our chances, too. They scored on their chances and we didn’t. We had some great chances and just didn’t take them.”