ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Sometimes after a Michigan win, coach Red Berenson credits the opposition in the way that gracious winners often do.
After tonight’s 3-2 playoff win over Northern Michigan, Berenson was grateful as well as gracious.
“You don’t go forward unless you get by your first weekend series and you don’t get by that series unless you survive games like that,” said Berenson. “A lot of our players realized how hard you have to play and how good that team was. They’re a tenth-place team. Right now they’re not playing like a tenth-place team. They can play with anyone in the league. This is playoff hockey in the CCHA.”
The Wolverines led 3-0 after the first period with goals that came from special teams play. Jon Merrill scored on the power play at 6:39 and then Kevin Lynch scored twice, a power-play goal of his own at 15:11 followed by a shorthanded marker at 18:30.
In the first, UM outshot NMU 12-6.
“Yeah, they kind of got in our heels the way it happened a little bit,” said Northern Michigan assistant coach Joe Shawhan. “I thought we had a great start. Michigan usually comes out of the gate really hard and we were happy [and] thought we had settled in a bit.”
The second two periods, however, were something completely different. That’s when the Wildcats actually did settle in.
At 4:57, Kory Kaunisto tipped in Wade Epp’s initial shot, a play that was reviewed and allowed to stand. Then at 16:00, Darren Nowick crashed the net with Stephan Vigier and finished the play that Vigier started to bring the Wildcats to within one.
NMU outshot UM 14-6 in the second.
Shawhan said that the Wildcats were especially pleased with the way that goaltender Jared Coreau played for the last 40 minutes.
“You could tell he got on his heels a little bit on the way he played that shorthanded goal,” said Shawhan. “He responded well, his mind was in it, and the team played well around him. I thought he handled it pretty well.”
In the back-and-forth, penalty-less third period, neither team was able to take advantage of the infrequent, small mistakes that could have led to real scoring opportunities.
Berenson said that the difference between the second and third periods was, for Michigan, an attitude shift.
“We told them we had to refocus on the things we came to do,” said Berenson. “We were losing every foot race, every battle on the puck, every faceoff.
“They thought they were playing hard, but they weren’t playing desperate and there’s a difference.”
The teams meet again Saturday night at 7:35 p.m. for the second game in this best-of-three series. Berenson said that both the Wolverines and the Wildcats will be different teams tomorrow night.
“I think that team [NMU] will probably get some confidence,” said Berenson. “They came in here and outplayed us for probably more than half the game. Our team will maybe get a little resolve from this game. I think what we’re going to get out of it is more mental than physical.”