EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Wolverines came into their biggest rival’s rink and made themselves right at home, scoring three statement-making, first period goals en route to a 5-1 win over Michigan State to take the first game of this best-of-three series.
“We made some breaks and we put our chances in,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “I like the way our team played. We competed hard. We were ready, we were focused, and we got rewarded.”
Louie Caporusso led UM in scoring with two goals and an assist, and junior goaltender Shawn Hunwick — in just his fourth career start — made 15 saves on 16 shots.
“They were really, really good,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “Really good. We just didn’t react. They played really, really well. The game was won in the first period.”
Carl Hagelin opened the scoring on an unassisted breakaway goal at 7:06, David Wohlberg followed at 10:18 with another breakaway that began when Lee Moffie thwarted a Spartan scoring chance at the other end and Caporusso netted his first of the night at 13:35 when he deked Spartan captain Nick Sucharski in the slot and shot past MSU defenseman Torey Krug to give UM that 3-0 lead after one.
The Wolverines owned more than the game at the end of the first. By the time the second period began, the home crowd was silent — even the pep band was sullen — and the fans from Ann Arbor owned the arena as well. Chants familiar to Yost regulars reverberated through Munn for the rest of the game, something that wasn’t lost on either coach.
“Yeah, we could hear them,” said Berenson. “I know their students aren’t here, but that [the home crowd] was disappointing.” While MSU’s students are on spring break, Berenson said the Wolverines gave their own fans “something to cheer about.”
“Did it hurt?” asked Comley. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m sure the kids expected that the atmosphere would be pretty good. Obviously, it wasn’t. But we didn’t give them much to yell about, either.”
The rest of the scoring in the game came in the second period. Steve Kampfer’s goal 21 seconds into the stanza gave the Wolverines a 4-0 lead and erased any doubt about the eventual outcome. It was a goal UM felt it had to score, said Berenson, because of the Wolverines’ narrow escape in a 5-4 win over the Spartans Jan. 30 in Joe Louis Arena. Michigan was up 3-0 at the end of the first in that game, too, and MSU scored four unanswered to take a one-goal lead and threaten to sweep the four game regular-season series.
“We talked about the fact that a three-goal lead against this team is not necessarily safe. We’ve got to play better and harder as the game goes on and not let them have a life. We’ve been in this building and the momentum can change dramatically. The home fans are just waiting for something good to happen.”
The only good thing to happen for the home fans was Derek Grant’s goal on the power play at 14:31. Caporusso’s goal at 19:17 capped the scoring and the night. When the third period began, Bobby Jarosz had replaced Drew Palmisano in net for the Spartans.
The win gives the Wolverines a three-game win streak; they’ve won five of their last seven, outscoring opponents 29-15 with two shutouts in that span. Said Berenson, “It’s not a surprise to me.” He added that his players are coming together even without injured captain Chris Summers and starting goaltender Bryan Hogan.
“I think it’s more of a commitment to playing for the team, doing the little things, being on the right side of the puck, the defensive posture, and even back-checking, a simple thing like back-checking,” said Berenson. “We came in here three or four weeks ago and we gave them three 3-on-1s in the first period. That didn’t happen tonight. We’re playing smart, disciplined — that’s how you have to play in the playoffs.”
Caporusso echoed his coach, almost to a word. “Maybe it’s just our commitment to defense. Maybe it’s just that we’re playing for the team. Everyone’s doing the little things that are going to help, if that’s chipping the puck out or changing a early, those are things that are making us better on the ice.”
The teams will meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. for the second game of the series, and the season is on the line for Michigan State; a Michigan win would likely knock the Spartans out of NCAA tournament contention, while winning the CCHA championship is the only way for Michigan to be invited.
“We know they’re going to be better tomorrow,” said Berenson. “We’ve got to keep hitting, keep our forecheck going and back-checking and just work hard.”
Comley said he’ll make a few lineup changes “and hope we come out and play better.”
“There’s no magic formula,” said Comley. “We’ve got to get out to a better start.”