SOUTH BEND, Ind. — At the start of the season, a multitude of questions surrounded the prospects for Michigan’s 2007-2008 hockey season, from goaltending concerns to the ability of a large group of 12 freshmen to handle the rigors of a full college hockey campaign.
Few of the Wolverines’ faithful would have expected the squad to be carrying the vaunted program’s best ever record through 24 games into the final weeks of January.
That’s exactly what the top-ranked Wolverines’ 5-1 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame at The Palace of Auburn Hills accomplished Saturday night.
The win, in front of a crowd of 10,831, enabled the Wolverines to maintain their share of the CCHA conference lead.
Five different goal scorers hit paydirt for Michigan and Billy Sauer continued his stellar play, turning aside 32 fighting Irish shots.
“We’re finding ways to win games,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I can’t tell you it was a thing of beauty. I can’t tell you we outplayed them. We made our chances count. I can’t tell you how many point blank chances they had from the slot that Billy made look easy.”
“The first goal was important,” continued Berenson. “Last night, we got behind. Tonight, we got ahead. Even though it was a lucky goal, it trickled through their goalie, it was still an important goal. We were lucky on our chances and Billy Sauer made the difference on their chances. Freshmen have definitely been impacting our game right from the start of the season. Night after night, it’s (Kevin) Porter and (Chad) Kolarik. Then, it’s our freshmen. We’re getting important contributions from our freshmen.”
“I was trying to build on the game from yesterday when we gave up two goals early and kept them scoreless the rest of the game,” said Sauer. “We’re getting criticism lately for not having played the hardest teams, so when we play a good opponent like this and come out with two wins, it’s a good feeling.”
The difference in an evenly played first period was Kolarik’s game-opening shorthanded goal. Ben Ryan tied the game for the Fighting Irish late in the period only to have the Wolverines regain the lead, 2-1, on a Porter tally late in the stanza.
Phillips got a piece of Kolarik’s slap shot from just inside the blue line, but the puck’s momentum allowed it trickle over the goal line at 6:41.
Less than a minute after Notre Dame’s Justin White had a goal disallowed for kicking the puck into the net, Ben Ryan pulled the Fighting Irish even, 1-1, converting Dan Kissel’s pass from behind the net.
Porter re-established the Michigan lead at 17:54. Matt Rust chased a faceoff draw into the corner, sent a backhand pass to Porter just to Phillips’ left, and Porter found an opening over Phillips’ right shoulder.
The Wolverines’ ability to capitalize on their chances allowed them to stretch their lead to 4-1 after two periods on goals by Louie Caporusso and Rust.
At 4:56, Caporusso blistered a shot from the blue line by a screened Phillips after Wolverines’ defenseman Kevin Quick fed him on a pretty turnaround play.
Rust rifled a snap shot from the circle to Phillips’ right off a feed from Carl Hagelin to wrap up the period’s scoring at 15:16.
Travis Turnbull closed out the game’s scoring with the third period’s only goal, ensuring the Wolverines’ weekend sweep.
Notre Dame (18-9-1, 11-6-1 CCHA) splits a home and home set with Bowling Green next weekend while Michigan (22-2-0, 15-1-0) meets in-state rival Michigan State in a showdown of top CCHA powers.