ANN ARBOR, Mich. — No. 5 Michigan bounced back from its embarrassing sweep at the hands of Minnesota and Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase with a 6-1 win over Notre Dame on Friday night.
The Wolverines’ performance on home ice was not as dominating as the score would indicate, but they methodically converted on their opportunities and killed six of seven Irish power plays, including two five-on-threes.
“It was a lot closer than 6-1,” Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin said. “We have to capitalize on our opportunities. We had some real good opportunities — two empty nets when (goalie) Al (Montoya) was out of his net — and we have capitalize on those chances.”
Michigan defenseman Eric Werner tallied his second game winning goal of the season midway through the first period with a slapshot from the right circle.
The shot went under a sliding Notre Dame defender and past goalie Mike Brown, but it was two Wolverine goals in the second that really turned the tide.
With Michigan up 2-1 and on the power play, senior Milan Gajic drew the defense to the right corner before feeding junior Brandon Kaleniecki, who beat Brown high on the glove-hand side.
Only a few minutes later and just seconds after another Michigan power play expired, freshman Chad Kolarik forced the puck between Brown’s right pad and the left post to give Michigan a comfortable 4-1 lead. Brown was pulled after the goal in favor of senior Morgan Cey.
“I thought when it was 2-1 we were right where we needed to be,” Poulin said. “Then we gave up a couple of power plays and they scored on both of them. They’re a talented, skilled team and you can’t give them opportunities.”
Michigan pounced on the deflated Irish in the third period and added two more goals, the first by Gajic and the second by defenseman Brandon Rogers. Gajic received a pass in the slot and faked Brown to the right before easily depositing the puck behind him on the backhand. Rogers fired a slapshot from the left point that beat Cey to the right.
“The game went our way,” Berenson said. “We got the bounces when it was 2-1, then (3-1). Those were important goals. If they that next goal on a couple of point shots that got through, then it’s a different game.
“(Special teams are) still an issue. Our penalty killing got through the game. I think we gave up a goal and we scored a goal. But, I can’t tell you it was a really good night for either one.”
What did please Berenson was the play of Montoya, who gave up a combined seven goals in the two Showcase games last week.
“He was rock-solid,” Berenson said. “You could see a bounce-back mentality in his game right from the first save. He had to make some saves in this game. It wasn’t a 6-1 (type) game.”
The return to Yost was also positive for sophomore T.J. Hensick, who was benched by Berenson for the Wisconsin game due to poor play away from the puck and in the defensive end.
Hensick rebounded by opening the scoring with a dazzling, top-shelf goal off a loose puck. Hensick grabbed the puck from the top of the right circle and made his way to the slot unchecked. From there, the sophomore playmaker baited Irish defenseman Joe Zurenko and Brown to the left side before shooting high and right.
“I liked his play,” Berenson said of his budding superstar. “I liked the way he bounced back. He played with some serious authority. He had one of the best hits in the first period, a goal and he was competing hard. You can see the kind of player he is when does that.”
After Werner’s goal put the Wolverines up 2-0, Irish winger Michael Bartlett corralled a Montoya rebound and put a slapper past the New York Rangers’ draftee.
Up to that point, Notre Dame’s forecheck and physical play had been effective in limiting Michigan’s scoring chances. It wasn’t until the third, when the game was out of reach, that Michigan padded its 34-22 advantage in shots on goal with 18 in the period.
The true test for the Wolverines will come Saturday night, when they travel to South Bend for the rematch. The Irish knocked off then-No.1 Boston College at the Joyce Center earlier this year.
“How you play on the road dictates your season,” Berenson said. “I don’t think there are many teams in college or pro hockey that have a better road record than a home record. That’s the challenge: to be as good on the road or as close to as good as you are at home. Tomorrow night’s game will be their home game and we will be tested.”
For the Irish, it is a matter of cashing in on their scoring chances.
“I didn’t feel like we were set back by the crowd tonight,” Poulin said. “I’ve been in this building when we’ve lost games and I’ve felt like ‘Oh no, the wave is coming.’ I didn’t feel like that tonight. I thought our guys handled the crowd fine tonight.”