ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The game had it all. One huge brawl, a shutout, four returning players from the World Junior Championships and 79 penalty minutes combined for No. 7 Michigan’s 4-0 blanking of Alaska Fairbanks at Yost Ice Arena.
Absolute chaos erupted with 50 seconds left in the game. A scrum broke out in front of goaltender Billy Sauer that involved every player on the ice. Jack Johnson wrestled Darcy Campbell to the ground once, and then both got up and went at each other again. At the half boards, Travis Turnbull and Kyle Greentree tussled.
Once the linesmen cleared up the physical and verbal brawls, four players were sitting in the Nanook penalty box and five more players piled in the Wolverine box.
“We were winning 4-0 and they got a little chippy,” Johnson said. “We weren’t going to lay down and let them take advantage of us, so naturally we fought back.”
Said Michigan coach Red Berenson: “We’re not here to win the fighting. Otherwise, we’d just get a boxing team. This isn’t pro hockey. The guys who want to play for that will get their chance later on. But not in college hockey, and not while they’re here.”
While the referee sorted out the calls, Johnson and Nanook Curtis Fraser exchanged words across the scorekeeper’s box. The overcrowded Michigan box wrote “go blue” with their gloves through the dust on the glass.
All of the players involved were assessed two minutes for roughing, with no disqualifications.
“I thought Johnson and Turnbull were gonna get kicked out,” Michigan forward Chad Kolarik said. “They were throwing punches left and right. I was a little nervous, but (captain Andrew Ebbett) tried to go talk (the referee) out of it, and I guess he did a good job persuading.”
Lost amidst the late-game spectacle was Billy Sauer’s birthday and first career shutout. He stopped 26 shots. His biggest stops of the night came in the first period, when Sauer made two point-blank saves on Jordan Emmerson and Adam Naglich to keep the score at 1-0.
“I woke up this morning and thought it was going to be a good day, and it turned out to be,” Sauer said. “Our team played a lot of defense. Honestly, I didn’t really have to make too many big saves. The team kept the shots to the outside.”
After a third place finish at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, the Wolverines returned to familiar territory and used a total team effort to beat the Nanooks. Ten different players had points, with Kolarik and Kevin Porter leading the Wolverines with two points apiece.
Michigan was infused with energy from its four returning players from the IIHF World Junior Championships: Andrew Cogliano for Canada and Johnson, Porter and Mark Mitera for the United States. All four players returned today, with Cogliano, a gold medal winner for Canada, not getting into Ann Arbor until 4:30 p.m. for a 7:35 start.
“I maybe got half and hour (of sleep) on the plane,” Cogliano said. “I don’t even think I ate anything today; I just had an energy bar.”
But the lack of rest didn’t seem to bother the Wolverines, as Cogliano and his team came out flying in the opening minutes and scored just four minutes into the contest. Danny Fardig banged the net and got a lucky bounce off defenseman Greentree, who backhanded the puck by his own netminder.
Michigan continued to pound the Alaska-Fairbanks net and added two more goals in the second. Jason Bailey blasted the puck by goaltender Wylie Rogers on a two-on-one from inside the faceoff circle at 1:28. Kolarik scored Michigan’s third goal, while Matt Hunwick converted another odd-man rush for the Wolverines in the third.
The teams will conclude their weekend series in Ann Arbor on Saturday night at 7:35. The teams split a series in Fairbanks in October, with the Nanooks winning 4-2 over the then-ranked No. 1 Wolverines. Michigan fought back to win the second game of the series 4-0.