ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Friday’s matchup between Michigan and Northern Michigan was a classic battle between offense and defense.
Northern Michigan brought the seventh-stingiest scoring defense in the land (2.17 goals/game) to Ann Arbor to face Michigan’s top-ranked offense (4.3 goals/game). Friday night at Yost Ice Arena, the immovable object stood its ground against the irresistible force as the Wildcats held the Wolverines in check for a 4-1 victory.
In a first period where no penalties were called, Northern Michigan withstood a furious opening five minutes from Michigan before jumping out to a 2-0 lead. Michigan got as close as 2-1 near the end of the first, but the Wildcats added a goal in both the second and third periods and cruised to their first victory at Yost since sweeping the Wolverines in October of 2001.
“I think it’s always important (to get up early), especially on these guys — they are real dangerous,” Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said. “This is a tough environment to play in — we haven’t had any success here in the last couple of years and it was important for our guys to feel like they could get something done.”
Northern Michigan jumped to a 1-0 lead when sophomore Darin Olver got behind the Wolverine defense. Junior defenseman John Miller’s pass up the middle was tipped by Michigan defenseman Matt Hunwick, but still found its way to Olver’s stick. Montoya charged out of the net and checked at the puck but Olver scooped up the deflection just left of the crease and found the open net.
“Al made a good decision to come out and play the puck, he just didn’t handle it,” Berenson said of the first goal. “He didn’t get (enough) wood on it, so the guy had an empty net. The second one was literally the poking of a loose puck or a pass.”
Patrick Murphy’s incredible effort put the Wildcats up by two at the 15:11 mark of the first period. Racing up the middle, Murphy shed his defender and dove with his stick extended to knock a centering pass between Montoya’s pads.
Michigan was fortunate to be down only 2-1 after the first period, as its only goal was the result of a strange bounce that led to an own-goal for the Wildcats. Northern Michigan goalie Tuomas Tarkki and Miller were trying to clear the puck from in front of the net, but the combination of their sticks pushed the puck between Tarkki’s skates.
Wolverine Milan Gajic was credited with the goal, which was as close as the Wolverines got to solving Tarkki and the Wildcat defense.
“When I came here three years ago we committed to playing a lot of freshmen on defense,” Kyle said. “Those guys are starting to grow and mature. Collectively, our work ethic and our understanding of the game has grown. You can have all of that, but if you don’t have goaltending behind it, it doesn’t work. Tuomas has been a pillar back there every night. I was extremely pleased with him again tonight.”
Tarkki was solid behind a defense that prevented the Wolverines from getting to the net and generating scoring chances. The senior goalie stopped 27 of 28 shots on the night and was named the first star of the game.
Northern Michigan regained its two-goal lead in the second period with a beautiful goal by Mike Santorelli. A strange bounce off the right boards of the Michigan end gave Santorelli the puck in the slot, and skating left, Santorelli beat Montoya high and right.
Pat Bateman sealed the deal for the Wildcats with a nice goal 9:34 into the third. Bateman took a pass from the left wing, faked inside to his forehand, then lifted a backhand behind Montoya. The Wildcats held the Wolverines at bay for the rest of the night to preserve the win.
“I thought our poise was very good,” Kyle said. “I think our poise was very good last week against Bowling Green at home. I saw a real change in our poise level between the previous week and last week. I saw us take a step forward last week and the thing I was happiest with was that it continued through tonight.”
Berenson was happy with the effort of his team, but unhappy with how the Wildcats dictated the game.
“When you get down like that to a team like that, we played right into their hands,” Berenson said. “They played the kind of road game that they wanted. They got the first goal, they got the next goal. They had us on our heels and they could play with a lead all night.”
The win — the first at Yost for Kyle in his three years as head coach for the Wildcats — snapped several home winning streaks for the Wolverines. It was their first home loss since March of last year, their first regular-season home loss since October of 2003, and their first regular-season CCHA home loss since a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Michigan State in February 2003.
The puck drops at 7:35 Saturday for the second game of the weekend set at Yost.