ANN ARBOR, Mich. — One night after being stifled by goalie Tuomas Tarkki and the Northern Michigan defense, No. 4 Michigan broke through for two first-period goals and turned in a solid overall performance to earn a 3-1 victory.
Senior captain Eric Nystrom put the Wolverines up 1-0 with a power-play goal just 4:24 into the first period. Nystrom crashed the net and took a pass from junior center Andrew Ebbett, who waited patiently behind the net until Nystrom broke free. The Wildcats prevented the Michigan from getting to the net on Friday night, but several early power plays opened the door for Wolverine skaters to maneuver.
“We knew the first goal was going to be important,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “They had a lot of confidence coming off last night’s game and if we didn’t bury one, they were always going to be in the game. If they got a lead with one or two, you don’t know if you can come back or not.”
Freshman Kevin Porter pushed the Michigan advantage to 2-0 with another power-play goal at the 11:28 mark of the first. Sophomore sensation T.J. Hensick circled around to the left slot from behind the Wildcat net and dumped the puck to senior winger Milan Gajic. Gajic managed a pass through several poke checks, and the puck found Porter alone at the far right post. Porter paused before lifting the puck into the net for his eighth goal of the season.
“I think Michigan stepped up and showed you what they can do tonight,” Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said. “We got into penalty trouble early and they converted and put us down. It’s a whole different game when you’re playing in here down 2-0. I thought that was the biggest difference.”
Gajic seemed to put the game out of reach early into the third period with a blistering slapshot that beat Tarkki over his glove shoulder, but Northern Michigan didn’t quit.
The Wildcats got on the board late in the third period with a goal from junior Jamie Milam and earned a five-on-three power play shortly after. Al Montoya was solid in net for the Wolverines and stood tall during the power play.
“That’s a tough position to be in or put yourself in, late in the game,” Berenson said. “The game’s still on the line and you go down two men short. I thought we did a great job our penalty killers, our defensemen, our goalie — Al came up with a huge glove save. It’s not like you’re hanging on, but if they get another one, then who knows? So, they had us on our heels and I thought we did a great job.”
With only 4:13 left in the game after the power play expired, Michigan used the momentum it gained from the penalty kill to finish out the game.
“I think it was much more tonight, their kind of game,” Kyle said. “Their big guns played tonight and we had some guys, that in my opinion, could have done a better job.”
Michigan prevented its first home sweep since Northern took a pair from the Wolverines at Yost back in October of 2001. Berenson’s squad now looks to avenge its Great Lakes Invitational championship game loss to Michigan State with a pair of games, one at Yost and one at Joe Louis Arena against the Spartans.
Northern Michigan walks away from Yost with a split that might help its chances of making the NCAA tournament.
“I am absolutely disappointed with the outcome tonight, but real happy with our effort,” Kyle said. “This is a tough place to win. You don’t just come in here and win, so I’m really happy with the effort (this weekend).”
The Wildcats will head back to Marquette for a pair of home games against Alaska-Fairbanks next weekend.