Special teams keys Wolverines back to Frozen Four

The last time Michigan faced Colorado College, the vaunted Tigers power play scored four goals in a run-and-gun, 6-5 loss to the Wolverines in the Great Lakes Invitational. After watching the Tigers use their special teams to dismantle Boston College on Friday night in St. Louis en route to an 8-4 win and a rematch with the Wolverines, Michigan coach Red Berenson and the Wolverines knew they would need a special effort defensively to return to the Frozen Four.

The Wolverines got that effort, killing off six of seven penalties Saturday in a dominating 2-1 win over CC to advance to the Frozen Four and a date with the winner of Denver-North Dakota.

“For this team, Colorado College, to score like they did last night against arguably the best team in the country, it put the fear of God in our team,” said Berenson. “We might have played better defensively just in respect to their team. We knew that this team was a prolific team, particularly their power play. We were playing against one of the best power plays in the country. To have to kill as many penalties, we didn’t try to take penalties, it just seemed that penalties were being called and we had to kill them. I thought that was the difference in the game, our penalty killing and our goalkeeping.”

Michigan got the first goal, an early singular effort from senior forward/defenseman Scooter Vaughan, but after that, the Tigers settled down and generated good chances. The pressure drew the first three penalties of the game, including a five-on-three chance for approximately a minute. The Tigers buzzed the Wolverines net, but Hunwick held strong, and the Tigers got frustrated. All of a sudden, they took two quick penalties, and Michigan was on a four-on-three power play, which quickly turned into a five-on-three when Carl Hagelin got out of the box, and on which they converted to grab the two-goal lead.

“We had that five-on-three power play in the first period, which was a small turning point because it all of a sudden became a four-on-three power play for Michigan,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “We were just off. Michigan has to be given credit. I think they had us pretty well scouted. There wasn’t a lot of flow tonight because of all the calls.”

Berenson credited assistant coach Billy Powers for helping prepare the Michigan special teams unit.

“I talked to coach Powers and he looked at video and did a good job preparing our penalty killers,” said Berenson. “I think we were prepared tonight. When they did get shots, Shawn was there. As much as we survived it, I thought we did a much better job on the PK than we did last time we played them over Christmas break.”

Though Owens felt his team might have been more tired Saturday, Tigers junior defenseman Gabe Guentzel felt Michigan’s penalty kill was at a different level of aggressiveness, and forced CC out of their game.

“Their penalty play was aggressive; it was tough to snap the puck around and get them out of postion because they were so aggressive,” Guentzel said. “Their power play was good; they spread us out. We tried to be aggressive and they had some good passes. Their special teams just did a better job than ours did.”

Michigan finished the game with a huge shots advantage, 43-22, but both teams felt that didn’t tell the whole story, and that even though CC didn’t get a lot of good looks on their power play, they were getting chances.

“They didn’t really get anything going too much until they got into the power play; once they got into the power play, I really had to be sharp,” said Michigan goalie Shawn Hunwick, who finished with 21 saves and had five shutout periods in a row this weekend, only giving up goals in the first period of the first game and late in the third period of tonight’s game.

“We had trouble penetrating and getting through them,” said Owens. “We actually had some good puck movement on a few power play chances that didn’t result in any shots. They were sound and able to get the line matchups they wanted being the home team.”