ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With a 6-1 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday at Yost Arena, Michigan took their second step of the weekend out of the massive hole they had dug for themselves in the 2009 portion of the CCHA season.
The Wolverines took the first step of 2010 out of that crater with a Friday night win over the Broncos in Kalamazoo.
Michigan used the weekend sweep as a springboard to jump back into the middle of the pack in the CCHA race with 21 points in the standings, still holding games in hand over most of the teams ahead of them in the conference rankings.
“It’s another step,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We’ve talked about taking it one game and one weekend at a time. There is no room for error at this point.
“I think it will give us a boost of confidence. It got some guys on the score sheet that have not been on the score sheet in a while. When looking at the whole weekend, it helped out special teams.”
Linemates Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust spearheaded the Wolverines’ offensive outburst. Hagelin scored two goals and added two assists while Rust had one goal and one assist. Both players posted a plus four plus/minus rating for the game.
Bryan Hogan was sharp in the Michigan net when he was tested, stopping 25 of 26 Western Michigan shots. Broncos’ netminder Riley Gill was pelted with 36 Wolverines’ shots.
“Bryan Hogan came back and gave us a good game when he had chances against, which maybe were too many for my liking,” said Berenson. “He was solid after the first goal. I think a lot of good things came out of this weekend.
“To come home and assert ourselves was important. It wasn’t an easy game. The score might look like it was a one-sided game, but the game was on the line throughout the second period when we were killing a five-minute major penalty.
“I thought our penalty killing was definitely a factor in the game tonight. Tonight, our power play was definitely a factor. We only had one goal against and that is important for us because we have been giving up too many goals.”
Even though Michigan exited the first period ahead, 2-1, they had to feel like the period was like their season in microcosm, holding a wide edge in shots and just a thin edge on the scoreboard.
The Wolverines dominated the game’s initial few minutes, jumping to a 2-0 lead on goals by Chad Langlais and Rust.
“Michigan hockey is about coming out flying and trying to score on your first shift,” said Hagelin. “Anytime you can get that first goal and get the team rolling, hopefully the other team will get down on their heels.”
On only their second shot of the game, Western Michigan converted a three-on-one break. The goal spurred the Broncos to play even with the Wolverines for the remainder of the period.
Langlais opened the scoring with his first goal of the season only 26 seconds into the game, firing a shot from the top of the left circle through a screen by Gill.
At 3:44, Hagelin backhanded a pass from behind the net back to Rust, camped at the corner of the Broncos’ net. Rust easily tapped the puck into the open goal.
Travis Paeth reversed Western Michigan’s fortunes and the flow of the game when he fired home a pass from Derek Roehl on a three-on-one break at 6:03 to blunt Michigan’s early dominance.
Michigan scored the only goal of a second period dominated by special teams play.
On a power play, Wolverines’ forward Brian Lebler’s shot from close in rebounded off Gill to freshman A.J. Treais, who had time to settle the puck before rifling it into the top corner of the net on a sharp angle at 7:29.
At 11:41 of the second period, Wolverines’ defenseman Lee Moffie started a sequence of special teams play when he incurred a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind.
Michigan blueliner Brandon Burlon compounded the Wolverines’ predicament when he delivered a hit on a Bronco after his replacement had already hopped into the play. The resulting penalty for too many players on the ice presented the Wolverines with a two-minute five-on-three disadvantage.
Not only did the Wolverines manage to escape without being scored upon, Michigan forward Luke Glendening killed a large chunk of time single-handedly winding up the effort by skating out of the offensive corner to nearly beat Gill short-handed.
“That’s an opportunity there,” said Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane of the Broncos’ power-play opportunity. “It’s a 3-1 hockey game. We’re on the five-on-three power play. You get one there, you cut it to a one-goal game. We didn’t do that. Even at that point with the score 3-1 at the end of two periods, you’re still in the hockey game. The next goal becomes critical and Michigan was able to find a way to get it to the back of the net.”
“It’s huge,” said Michigan captain Chris Summer of killing the five-on-three. “Penalties can work in your favor, especially when you kill them and especially when you have 7,000 people rooting for you. That’s a big boost for our team and that was definitely a turning point in the game.”
Hagelin put the game out of reach midway through the third period with a pair of goals, his 11th and 12th of the season, just one goal short of his single season best.
David Wohlberg wrapped up the Wolverines’ scoring with a goal late in the final period.
“They made some real solid plays with their foot speed and with their skill,” said Culhane. “We missed some assignments down low defensively. When you do that, you’ve got to rely heavily on your goaltender, which we did. I thought Riley (Gill) played his tail off for us.”
Michigan (12-10-0, 7-7-0-0 CCHA) now must prepare to host a two-game set next weekend against Alaska, one of the teams they’re chasing in the CCHA race. Western Michigan (6-12-4, 2-11-3-1 CCHA) travels to Bowling Green next weekend for a pair of games with the Falcons.