ST. PAUL, Minn. — For a team that was 33rd in the nation in penalty minutes this season, Michigan found itself in the box a lot this weekend. In their 2-0 semifinal win over North Dakota, the Wolverines took six minor penalties to UND’s three. In the title game tonight, they took 10 penalties to Minnesota-Duluth’s five.
In regional action in St. Louis two weeks ago, the Wolverines had a total of 13 minor penalties, but so did their opponents. In fact, Michigan matched both Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College in penalties in their contests in the West Regional.
“You can’t kill nine penalties,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Like we said before the game, if they get three, if we can kill three penalties, that should be it. We’re not out there to take penalties.”
But that wasn’t all Berenson had to say.
“Every time a player falls down, it shouldn’t be a penalty, not in NCAA championship game hockey.”
The Wolverines’ penalty killing allowed one power-play goal on 13 opponent chances in the Frozen Four, but when a team spends that much time killing penalties, it’s difficult to win a game. Coming from behind to tie the contest — as UM did late in the second period of tonight’s match — is one thing, but staying fresh enough to compete into overtime in the second game of a tournament is another story entirely.
“Some guys get more tired than others, and it’s tough…to really get some sustained pressure,” said senior Carl Hagelin, “but I think we did a good job only allowing one goal and they have a really good power play. Obviously, some of us got a bit tired by playing too much PK.”
Too much PK, especially in the second period tonight: Kevin Clare for hitting after the whistle at 4:10, Mac Bennett for hooking at 9:09, Chris Brown for interference at 12:06 and Clare again two seconds after the Wolverines killed off Brown’s penalty, at 14:08.
“Penalties had a big part in the whole game, just too many penalties,” said Berenson. “Were they good penalties? I can’t tell you what I really think. You can’t talk about refereeing and penalties, but when one team gets nine and the other one gets four, it’s tough that it doesn’t add up. We just felt we were on our heels a lot because of penalties.”
The Wolverines knew coming into the weekend that they’d have to stay out of the box to have a shot at a title. Michigan’s offense averaged 3.32 goals per game compared to North Dakota’s 4.05 and UMD’s 3.40. The Wolverines were well aware that North Dakota’s power play was eighth in the nation, Minnesota-Duluth’s 10th.
“I thought our penalty killing was outstanding — our defensemen, our forwards and our goalie,” said Berenson. “Our assistant coach, Billy Powers, looks after the penalty killing. I thought he did an unbelievable job of preparing our team for this power play. It’s as good a power play as we’ve seen all year, and we were dialed in and of course Shawn had to make a couple of saves. For the most part, we did a good job.”
Having to play from inside the box though, so to speak, just wasn’t Michigan’s game.