ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Conventional wisdom in competitive team sports states that “defense wins championships”.
Michigan rearguards Jack Johnson and Matt Hunwick proved this weekend that “offense from defense” wins weekend CCHA two-game series.
After Johnson’s Friday night hat trick lead the Wolverines to a 9-4 victory over Ferris State, he chipped in two more goals and two assists to go along with Hunwick’s goal and an assist in Michigan’s Saturday night win against the Bulldogs, 6-2, at Yost Arena.
Over the Wolverines’ last four games, Johnson has 11 points on six goals and five assists.
Prior to his four-game outburst, the Wolverine sophomore had suffered through a stretch of seven games without hitting the score sheet. That seven-game drought was sandwiched around his trip to Sweden over the holidays as a member of the U.S. World Junior Championship team.
“I just kept firing,” said Johnson. “The past ten games or so, they were not going in for me, but I had the mentality to keep shooting, and so, eventually one of them is going to go in. I kind of made a living this weekend off great passes from Andrew (Cogliano) and Matt (Hunwick). I started getting the bounces going my way.”
Coach Red Berenson had a slightly different view of the offensive outburst from his defensemen.
“I can’t tell you it’s by design,” said Berenson, “but I can tell you that these teams collapse (in the defensive zone). If you watch Ferris and their defensive zone coverage, they’ve got five guys below the hash marks more often than not. So, your defense could be open. Hunwick saw an opening and jumped right in. Jack Johnson’s goals were just overpowering.”
Michigan dominated first period play for the second straight night against the Bulldogs, outshooting them 12-4 and building a two-goal lead on goals by Hunwick and Andrew Cogliano.
Wolverine forward Travis Turnbull broke into the offensive zone and pushed the puck ahead to Brandon Naurato to start Michigan’s first scoring play. Fighting off a Bulldog defender with one hand, Naurato flipped a pass to Hunwick who beat Ferris State goaltender Mitch O’Keefe high over his blocker at13:11.
With only 35 seconds left in the period, Chad Kolarik deflected a backhand pass from Johnson at the Bulldog blueline to a streaking Cogliano who broke in alone and roofed a shot high over O’Keefe’s glove.
Ferris State jumped quickly on the Wolverines for an early second period goal, but Michigan roared back with three markers of their own to carry a dominant 5-1 lead into the third period.
Mark Bomersback’s conversion of a Matt Verdone pass 35 seconds into the second period would normally have instilled some life into the Ferris State, but Johnson built the lead right back to two goals for Michigan at 2:06 with a blazing slap shot from the high slot after a scramble in front of the Bulldog net.
An attempted cross-ice pass by Cogliano to Chad Kolarik bounced off a Ferris State stick to Michigan freshman Brian Lebler who slapped it by O’Keefe at 9:36.
Michigan closed out the scoring in the second period at 13:23 when a Brandon Naurato pass to Travis Turnbull at the corner of the Ferris State net hit the sophomore forward’s skate and rolled along the goal line. Before O’Keefe could react, Turnbull banged the puck the rest of the way in.
Trying to match Friday night’s third period comeback, Ferris State forward Zac Pearson fired a shot by screened Michigan netminder Billy Sauer on a power play after a pass from the left corner deflected off Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer straight out to Pearson. The goal at 7:36 shrunk the Michigan lead to three goals.
Michigan stymied the Bulldogs’ offensive efforts for the remainder of the period and Johnson added an insurance power play marker for the Wolverines at 18:28.
Michigan’s win pulled them within one point of Miami for second place in the CCHA while holding two games in hand over the RedHawks. The victory increased their bulge over fourth place Michigan State to three points with the Spartans holding a game in hand in that matchup.
“This is the time of year that Michigan teams need to be at their best,” said Berenson. “This team is trying hard to do that. We underachieved in the first half and we have to have a good second half a real good second half, and that is what we are trying to do.”
“It is good to get the team rolling a bit,” agreed Hunwick, Michigan’s captain. “This late in the season, we do not have any games to waste. We have to win every one, especially at home. It is a good confidence boost.”
Ferris State (7-18-3, 4-14-2 CCHA) hosts Ohio State for a two-game set next weekend while Michigan (19-9-0, 14-6-0 CCHA) has a home-and-home match-up with Western Michigan.