ST. PAUL, Minn. — Coming into this game, North Dakota’s first line of Evan Trupp, Brad Malone and Hobey Baker finalist Matt Frattin had 69 goals between them. Michigan’s third line of Ben Winnett, Matt Rust and Luke Glendening had scored just 16.
On a team of role players then, it seemed completely fitting that Winnett — who had just three goals coming into this game and hadn’t scored since Dec. 30 — would pot the game-winner.
“I haven’t had the offensive success in college as I had in juniors, and that’s been frustrating for me,” said Winnett, a senior from New Westminster, B.C., “but my coaches and my teammates most importantly have stuck with me and given me confidence.
“Any way I can help with the team is excellent. In the last couple of weeks, Glendening, Rust and I have played a real shut-down role against other team’s top players. To be able to do that is for me, personally, a little bit more rewarding than scoring goals.”
“I can tell you that he’s playing his best hockey right now, whether he scores or not,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson of Winnett. “And as is Scooter Vaughan, who’s a senior.”
Vaughan (Placentia, Calif.) had the empty-netter in the final minute, assisted by the team’s leading scorers, captain Carl Hagelin and assistant captain Louie Caporusso. Vaughan had 13 goals coming into this game, but just two total in his three previous seasons. He began his career as a defenseman, made the permanent shift to offense at the start of his junior year, and has become as steady a forward as Michigan has on a team that does not boast a single player with 20 goals.
“He’s played left wing, right wing, he played with at least four different lines this year, and he’s just gotten better and better,” said Berenson. “He’s found a way to score goals, and he’s been an important player for this team. He’s fun to watch, but he’s getting more confidence, he’s getting better.
“He’s surprising himself, I think, with some of the things that have happened to him.”
It’s completely fitting, too, that the team’s two leading scorers would pass off to Vaughan for that goal.
“Usually I’m pretty bad at scoring those empty-netters,” said Hagelin, “so I just tried to give away the puck. I just gave it to Louie, and he’s not great either at scoring empty-netters, so he gave it to Scooter.”
“I get nervous when it’s an empty net,” said Caporusso. “I mean, how can you miss? I was so confident he was going to put it in. When I saw him coming down the wing, I knew it was in.”
“It was rolling,” said Vaughan, “the puck was rolling.”
“I don’t think so,” Caporusso interrupted. “I think it was a nice saucer.”
“It was a saucer,” said Vaughan, “and then it hit like a rivet and then it popped up and it was rolling. I was pretty scared, actually.”
An unlikely game-winning goal, an unlikely connection on the insurance goal, but all very typical for a Michigan team whose only superstar is a walk-on senior goalie who had never started a game until near the end of his junior season.
“Everyone plays their role,” said Vaughan. “We’re a defensive specialist team. We can put the puck in when we get opportunities, but we pride ourselves really on defense and our goalie in net and just trying to minimize other team’s opportunities. Tonight, we really did give them opportunities, but our goalie stood on his head.”
“We knew we had to overachieve to find a way to win this game,” said Berenson, “and I think that’s what you saw tonight.”