ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Senior goaltender Craig Kowalski made 55 saves Friday, but that wasn’t enough to keep Northern Michigan from recording the loss. Michigan blanked the Wildcats 2-0.
While Kowalski couldn’t keep the Wolverines from lighting the lamp, he did frustrate at least one of them.
Junior Milan Gajic scored in the third period, and he might have turned in his jersey after the game if he hadn’t found the net.
“Before, I was thinking about retiring, honestly,” the winger said. “I put (shots) everywhere. I put them off his head. I put them off his back. I was getting pretty upset about the whole situation.”
Gajic was mystified by one particular shot, which knocked off Kowalski’s mask but didn’t cross the goal line.
“I don’t know how I hit a goalie in the back of the head and the puck stayed out,” Gajic said. “I’m not a physics major, so I couldn’t tell you.”
Eric Werner solved Kowalski first. He put the Wolverines up 1-0 when he banged in the puck halfway through the first period. T.J. Hensick earned an assist, his team-leading seventh point.
Kowalski faced a flurry of shots in the second period, but the goaltender held strong and kept the Wildcats within one.
Michigan (5-1-0, 2-1-0 CCHA) added to its lead on a power play 10:19 into the third. Gajic one-timed a shot from the left circle and beat Kowalski top-shelf. Werner earned his second point of the night on the play. Andrew Ebbett also assisted.
Dwight Helminen, who returned from an ankle injury, had an empty-net chance with less than 30 seconds left, but the puck slid just wide of the right post.
Northern Michigan (3-2-0, 2-1-0) had isolated scoring chances but struggled to generate sustained pressure in Michigan’s zone. Sophomore Al Montoya made 19 saves in his fifth career shutout.
Michigan attacked throughout the game, but it was the defensive effort that was most satisfying for coach Red Berenson.
“Shutouts are great for goalies, and they’re great for teams, but particularly for the defense,” Berenson said. “Obviously Montoya played strong tonight, but our defense did a lot of good things.”
Werner leads the Wolverines’ defense with four points, but he said offense is secondary.
“We’re stressing on working harder down low as the year goes on,” Werner said. “That’s a real part of the game — defense first — and I think (the defensemen) are taking more pride as the season goes on.”
The two teams face off again Sunday afternoon, and Berenson cautioned that the series is far from over.
“This is not the weekend,” Berenson said. “The weekend comes down to Sunday afternoon. But this was a good start.”