Necessity proved to be the mother of Michigan coach Red Berenson’s defensive pairings invention when he put interim captain Chris Summers and freshman Brandon Burlon together on the blue line for the Wolverines nearly two months ago.
The two defenders were thrown together after Michigan lost senior defenseman Mark Mitera to a knee injury, necessitating the move of Summers to defense from the forward position he had adopted at the seasons’ start.
The defensive duo rewarded their coach with an offensive flurry early in Michigan’s 5-1 victory over Miami at Yost Arena on Saturday.
In their seventh game together as the Wolverines’ top pairing, each scored an early goal as No. 10 Michigan held on to snare an important CCHA victory from the No. 6 RedHawks. The win pulled Michigan to within seven points of Miami in the conference standings. The Wolverines maintain two games in hand on the RedHawks in the standings chase.
“We obviously got off to a good start,” said Berenson. “We got some bounces around the net. We got the puck luck. We got the breaks. Miami’s a real good team and they got all the bounces against them. I’m sure they’ll bounce back tomorrow night with an even stronger effort.
“They’re getting a lot of confidence. Certainly, Summers has been our anchor on defense. Now, he’s playing with a young freshman (Burlon) and bringing him along. I thought for the most part, they were effective offensively. They’re giving us a defense pair that we have a lot of confidence in.”
Summers accepted the victory grudgingly.
“To be honest, we got the puck luck early in the game and maybe only got eight shots in the second two periods,” said Summers. “We’re going to have to be a better team tomorrow. This is a step in the right direction.
“I think we play well together,” offered Summers about Burlon. “We’ve been practicing for the past couple months together. I think the most important thing is line of communication between Burlon and I. That’s really evident in the games. He likes to handle the puck and I like to skate a little bit more.”
Burlon was quick to credit Summers’ contribution to his quick adaptation to college hockey.
“Chris has done a great job of taking me under his wing, showing me the ins and outs and complimenting me when I play well,” said Burlon. “Chris has come in as a junior, assumed the role of captain and he’s doing a great job.”
The Wolverines stormed out of the gate with three goals in the first five minutes of the opening period and added another in the period’s waning seconds.
Just 28 seconds into the contest, Aaron Palushaj circled behind the Miami net, centering a pass to Summers, who was breaking in off the right point. Summers’ shot deflected high in the air to Miami goaltender Chris Reichard’s right. Summers circled the net himself after the shot and flipped a backhand past Reichard when the puck finally landed from his initial shot.
Burlon took his offensive turn three minutes later on a power play. The Toronto-native freshman wristed a shot from the right circle that first caromed off Reichard straight to the right skate of Miami defenseman Will Weber. The puck bounced directly off Weber’s skate into the net behind Reichard at 3:15.
Initiating another scoring play, Burlon drove the puck from the left point. The rebound came out to Brandon Naurato, whose initial shot was blocked by a Miami defender. Naurato potted that rebound at 4:51 to extend the Wolverines’ lead to three. Miami coach Enrico Blasi pulled netminder Reichard in favor of Connor Knapp as a result of the third Wolverines’ tally.
With only ten seconds left in the period, Matt Rust parlayed a short-handed faceoff into the fourth Michigan goal of the period. Just back from the World Junior Championship in Ottawa, Rust shot the draw toward the RedHawk goal. Carl Hagelin fought through traffic in front of the net and banged the puck by Knapp to stretch the Michigan lead to 4-0 at 19:52.
Miami gained a measure of momentum reversal with the second period’s only goal, as well as some timely penalty killing.
While on a power play, Justin Mercier broke from the right corner toward the Wolverines’ net. A sliding Trent Vogelhuber swept Mercier’s pass through the slot by Michigan netminder Bryan Hogan for his first career goal at 9:27, cutting the Michigan lead to three.
Michigan’s Brian Lebler added the only goal of the third period directly off a faceoff at 5:51 to close the scoring.
Michigan (14-7-0, 8-5-0 CCHA) and Miami (12-6-3, 10-3-2-1 CCHA) complete their two-game weekend set late Sunday afternoon with the makeup of Friday night’s game, postponed due to storm damage to Yost Arena’s outer brick structure.