ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan cured its home woes, and for the Wolverines it couldn’t have come at a better time.
After giving up a quick goal, the Wolverines rattled off four straight in a five-minute span before holding on and sweeping Nebraska-Omaha, 6-3, in front of an electric crowd at Yost Ice Arena.
“It was a big weekend for Michigan,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We needed to have back-to-back games at home where we could walk out of here and feel good about the whole weekend at home.”
Holding a disappointing 5-5-2 mark at home coming into the series, Michigan finished off its first weekend sweep at Yost in over a year. The last one came Jan. 5-7, 2001, against Lake Superior.
But more importantly for the Wolverines, the win, coupled with a Michigan State loss at home to Notre Dame, brought Michigan (18-8-5. 15-5-4) into a first-place tie with the Spartans heading into the rivals’ nonconference matchup at Joe Louis Arena this Saturday.
Michigan’s fifth straight win didn’t come easy.
The Mavericks struck first just three minutes into the game. Taking advantage of an odd bounce off the boards and a stickhandling mistake by Michigan goaltender Josh Blackburn, Scotty Turner slammed a loose puck just outside the crease into the net for a 1-0 lead.
Berenson later said that Blackburn had been struck in the right index finger with a shot in Friday’s game, forcing him to receive four stitches — and thus having an effect on Blackburn’s puck-handling ability.
But it didn’t matter, as the Wolverines caught fire shortly thereafter and took over the game. With 11:45 remaining, Michigan captain Jed Ortmeyer started the four-goal barrage with a power-play tally. John Shouneyia slyly maneuvered around the Nebraska-Omaha zone before sending a diagonal pass to Ortmeyer in the slot. The Omaha native one-timed it past a flailing Dan Ellis to tie the game.
Thirty seconds later, Michigan freshman forward Milan Gajic gave Michigan the lead on an odd-man rush. But the Wolverines’ third goal was the turning point that Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp said put the Mavericks “on their heels.”
The Mavericks had a 3-on-2 opportunity, but the rebound off a nice Blackburn save kicked out to Gajic who led a Michigan rush of its own. As Gajic carried the puck down the right side, defenseman Jay Vancik jumped into the play and redirected a pass over Ellis’ blocker to take the wind out of the Mavericks’ sails and force Kemp to call an early timeout.
“Those next two goals came so quick that it really sent us on our heels for a while — up through the rest of the period,” Kemp said.
Gajic’s second goal of the game came three minutes later, giving Michigan a 4-2 lead heading into intermission and marking just the second time this year the Wolverines have scored four times in one stanza.
The Mavericks wouldn’t go away, and got within 4-3 at the end of the second period. But thirty six seconds into the third period, Ortmeyer put Nebraska-Omaha away with a fluky goal.
With two Mavericks draped around him in the right circle, Ortmeyer ripped a slapshot top shelf on Ellis, and the 6,759 in attendance erupted.
“That was a huge goal,” Berenson said. “Maybe it was a little lucky, it was a bad angled shot that normally doesn’t go in. “But it did, and it was a huge goal.”
Michigan outshot the Mavericks, 31-22 and stoned them on all four of their power plays — bringing the Wolverines’ penalty kill streak to 55. Michigan now holds a six-game unbeaten streak over Nebraska-Omaha (5-0-1), but has won two in overtime.
After rattling off eight straight wins and pulling within two points of the Wolverines’, Nebraska-Omaha’s last two losses have put them seven points behind Michigan and Michigan State with just four conference games remaining.
“It’s really tough,” Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Jason Jaworski said. The losses “have put us behind the eight-ball now, and we just have to respond in our next few games and get back on track.”
Joe Smith is a sports editor at The Michigan Daily and can be reached at email@example.com.