ANN ARBOR, Mich. — One night removed from playing an emotional double-overtime opening game to their CCHA quarterfinal best-of-three playoff series, Michigan mustered enough strength to gradually build a three-goal lead over Notre Dame through the first half of the game.
The Wolverines then hung on, playing just conservatively enough to win the game, 3-1, and the playoff series Saturday night at Yost Arena.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “It wasn’t easy. Last night’s game was a game either team could have won and I thought [Michigan goaltender Shawn] Hunwick was the difference in that game. Then tonight, getting an early goal was important. Getting a lead, you knew Notre Dame would push back and they did, even when we went up 3-0 and it was still anyone’s game. I think we had to kill at least two penalties after we had that lead and we did that whether it was blocking shots, or winning faceoffs, or getting the puck out. They had a good power play. Let’s face it, our PK did a great job.”
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson agreed with Berenson on the difficulty of playing from behind and facing Hunwick.
“It’s happened to us a lot this year,” Jackson said of having to fight back from behind. “Our first period, for some reason, has not been nearly as good as I’d like. It’s challenging. We were behind last night, too. Last weekend, we got out to a lead on the first night. It makes it a lot easier.”
Jackson noted the difficulty in bouncing back from Friday’s tough loss.
“Both teams were probably a little tired,” said the Notre Dame mentor. “But our emotions were probably a little more drained. Losing a game late like that is like giving up a goal in the last minute of play. It’s just a challenging emotional situation. I thought we were okay in the first period. We got some life later in the game.
“I thought that Riley Sheahan and his line gave us a little energy as the game progressed. It’s just that Hunwick’s too good and we’ve had a tough time finishing over the last couple months. I can’t put my finger on it. You can’t always say that it’s great goaltending, but I’ve got some guys that I think could be more productive offensively.”
“Mentally and physically, I think our team matches up well with teams,” said Berenson. “You have the mental toughness of your seniors and juniors and then you’ve got the physical fitness of guys like Luke Glendening that literally set the pace, the physicality of Greg Pateryn. Our team works as hard as any team in the spring, summer and fall off the ice, and it shows up in a weekend like this.”
After a first period full of penalties and fruitless power plays, Michigan struck pay dirt late in the opening period. At 18:53, Phil Di Giuseppe swept a pass from the left half-boards horizontally to David Wohlberg mid-ice, who fired it past Notre dame goaltender Steven Summerhays.
“Steven Summerhays is a junior playing against a fifth year senior,” noted Jackson. “That’s part of what we’re going through. We’re young on the back end – defense and goal – and we’ve got some young guys up front, too.”
Michigan built its lead to 3-0 in the second period on goals by Di Giuseppe and Wohlberg. Notre Dame answered with one of their own, Peter Schneider’s second of the season, to pull within two of Michigan after 40 minutes.
Michigan entered the third period with the game plan of playing out the final 20 minutes cautiously to protect the two-goal lead.
“I thought we played smarter,” said Berenson. “We didn’t forecheck two guys. We weren’t getting trapped up the ice. You can get on the wrong side of the puck when you think you’re going to get the puck and all of a sudden, you’re trapped, and that happened to us on their goal. We just told the guys, ‘If you can’t play on the right side of the puck, then you can’t play.’ Everyone wants to play, so I thought our team played better defensively in the third period.”
The series-clinching win sends Michigan on to the CCHA playoff semifinals next weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and ends Notre Dame’s season.
“It’s my last two games at Yost and I won’t play here again until an alumni weekend in two years.” said Hunwick. “Our class wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to keep that streak alive and go to the Joe. I feel like we have a ton of streaks to keep alive and so far, we’ve been able to do it.”
“We cost ourselves a lot in the mid part of the season to where we shouldn’t even have had to be at Yost,” said Jackson philosophically. “We should have been at home in the second round and we gave that away by having a tough month of January.”