Michigan surging in second half again, but there’s more to the story

After Michigan beat Miami last Saturday night to complete a two-game sweep, Red Berenson wanted to make something very clear. “Don’t ask me about the officiating,” Berenson said as he opened the postgame news conference.

Turns out, no one needed to ask.

“We were trying to play with discipline against a team that was on the edge and a team that was frustrated because they lost last night and we ended up getting it,” said Berenson. “At one point, the penalties were six to two and we had to kill all those penalties against a real good power play. Whether it was goalkeeping or just sucking it up and blocking shots and winning faceoffs and clearing the puck, I thought we did a lot of good things in the game.

“You shouldn’t have to kill that many penalties in a game like that.”

That’s Red Berenson not talking about the officiating.

Here’s a little disclaimer. This story was going to be about Michigan’s second-half resurgence, an act the Wolverines seem to play to perfection. After a 7-1-2 start to the season, the Wolverines found themselves on a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1) until a 1-0 win over Alaska on Dec. 3 — and they’ve lost just once since, going 10-1-2 in their last 13. In the process, Michigan has climbed the league standings from eighth to third, and the Wolverines are three points behind first-place Ferris State.

That’s a story worthy of attention at this point in the season. That story, however, isn’t nearly as good as this one.

After the Wolverines beat the RedHawks 4-1 Friday night, Berenson had some interesting words for the press. Quoted in a story by Peter Cunningham that appeared on AnnArbor.com, Berenson expressed his displeasure by what he said is ongoing, unnecessary physical contact with Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick, contact initiated by CCHA opponents.

“We’ll keep sending the information to the league,” said Berenson, “but the league has to respond. I don’t know that they’ve done a good job so far.”

That’s Red Berenson saying that maybe the league hasn’t done a good job so far.

Hunwick was roughed up in Friday’s game, once losing his helmet, another time knocked to the ice. Saturday’s game was another story altogether. With one minute remaining in regulation and the Wolverines leading 3-0, an altercation behind the Miami net stopped the play for several minutes. When it was all over, Michigan’s second-leading scorer, junior Chris Brown, and Miami senior captain Will Weber each received major penalties for fighting and game disqualifications.

One minute left. Berenson was not amused — but it wasn’t the officiating that drew his ire after Saturday’s win.

“It was the way the game was being handled,” said Berenson. “We talk about [this with] our team, the puck management and management of your emotions and so on, but it’s really too bad that happens.

“A smart coach knows … how important his players are [and that] they have to stay in the game, and when a team has a nonconference weekend the next weekend, they might take liberties and maybe they did, but we’re the ones that are going to pay for it.”

That’s Berenson absolutely not talking about the officiating.

See, the Wolverines play a series against Michigan State this weekend, with league points on the line. Michigan will be without Brown for the first game of that set, Friday’s contest in East Lansing.

The RedHawks are hosting Alabama-Huntsville in Oxford, Ohio. Miami will be without Weber for Friday’s contest of that series.

The kicker, though, is that what began the entire mess with a minute to go in the game was the love tap that Michigan’s Alex Guptill gave Miami goaltender Connor Knapp, after the whistle had blown. Michigan’s Jon Merrill shot from the right circle and Knapp made the save. The whistle blew. Guptill — Michigan’s leading scorer — tapped Knapp with his stick.

That was something that Weber deemed inappropriate, understandably. Weber shoved Guptill back away from Knapp and two other RedHawks players, Garrett Kennedy and Patrick Tiesling, joined in, backing Guptill toward the boards, where it was three on one.

Brown immediately skated in, no doubt in an attempt to even up the fight. And fight it was.

This isn’t about the officiating. All four men in stripes were on this fast and had they not been, things would have been much uglier. Both Knapp and Lee Moffie tried to get into the tangle, but referee Keith Sergott pushed them back and out of harm’s way. While there was a lot of tussling, the real action was between Weber and Brown, whose helmets and gloves were off. After Weber wrestled Brown to the ice, Merrill tried to help but was pulled away so quickly by Sergott that he wasn’t able to get himself into any trouble at all.

Referee Brian Hill did an excellent job of breaking up the fight between Weber and Brown before either could really get hurt.

Now, I’m no psychic — as my picks record this season can evidence — but I’m pretty sure the look on Miami coach Enrico Blasi’s face indicated his displeasure with his own squad, especially since Blasi was publicly irritated with his own players after Friday night’s loss, a game in which the Wolverines scored two power-play goals.

Blasi had reason to be annoyed earlier in the game, when it appeared that Matt Tomassoni scored on a short-handed breakaway, a goal that would have made it a 2-1 contest. There were 15 seconds left on a Michigan power play. Tomassoni picked up a loose puck that was stalled by a broken stick near the Miami blue line, flew down the ice and beat Hunwick fair and square, right through the senior’s legs at 9:35 in the third.

But Moffie was there to make what may have been the save of the night — maybe. Moffie scooped the puck out and back into play, and Hill signaled no goal.

When the play finally stopped again — when Knapp made a save on Derek DeBlois at 11:16 — the Tomassoni shot was reviewed.

And re-reviewed. After the first ruling of no goal was announced, Blasi argued his case rather passionately, fueled by the replay on the giant screen above the ice. The officials went back and looked at it again. Again it was ruled no goal.

On camera, Blasi could be seen saying one word: “Wow.”

After all of this — after all of this drama, and innuendo, and controversy and everything that makes a high-level college hockey game exactly what we love on a Saturday night — Hunwick and Moffie made it even better with what they said after the series was over.

Asked whether he was tempted to skate the length of the ice and join the scuffle near the end of the game — perhaps challenging his counterpart, Knapp — Hunwick said he was never tempted.

“Do you know how big he is?” said Hunwick. “Maybe if it was Palmisano — Palmy’s my good buddy, so I’m just kidding.”

Knapp is 6-foot-6. Hunwick is 5-7. Michigan State goaltender Drew Palmisano is 5-10.

“There’s no chance,” said Hunwick. “It was four on three so I knew what [Knapp] was doing. He’s getting in there to even things up. You see it all the time in hockey. Even if he was making it five on four, he’s pretty big. I don’t know if I would have trekked down there.”

Another reporter asked if the players thought the game was dirty. Both answered immediately — and sincerely — in the negative.

“I don’t think so,” said Hunwick. “It was emotional, like a playoff atmosphere.”

“Both teams wanted to win so bad,” said Moffie.

“I don’t think it was dirty at all,” finished Hunwick.

Hunwick also put into perspective what a good home crowd can do to a visiting team. “Once the crowd gets going a little bit crazy you start losing your mind a little bit,” he said. “Going down to Miami when the crowd’s all over us, it’s not easy to keep your head.”

And even though he didn’t have the last word of the night, chronologically, since his players came out after he was finished, Berenson had the best line of the weekend. Of course.

“There’s no fighting in college hockey,” said Berenson, “let’s face it. You want to have a fight, go out into the parking lot after the game.”

That’s Red Berenson being Red Berenson.

They play hockey, too

There was some talk about the Wolverines’ second-half performance. I made sure of that.

It seems to me that Michigan’s overall team defense has improved significantly in these last 13 games, but Berenson said he thinks the whole team is playing better since December.

“We’ve been playing one or two freshmen every night on defense and with Jonny Merrill in the lineup, he just upgrades our defense a lot,” said Berenson. “I think our team just has more confidence right now and we have some momentum and we’re getting good goalkeeping.”

Good goalkeeping is an understatement. I do not know how Hunwick does what he does, but in these past eight weeks, he’s doing it exceptionally well. His save percentage has increased to .932 — fifth-best in the nation and the best so far of his career — and his goals-against average is 2.05 (ninth).

The Michigan team defense is fifth nationally. That’s no accident, said Moffie. “It’s kind of weird. It’s something that Red always says. When you’re focusing more on D and when you’re going out there and working as hard as you possibly can, the bounces kind of go your way.

“That’s how we’re playing. Every game we’re coming in and saying [that] we’re going to outwork this team and bounces will go our way. That’s what’s been going on.”

Players of the week

There is nothing surprising about this week’s selections — well, except that the best forward in the league was a defenseman, and you’ll get no argument here about that.

Rookie of the week: Bowling Green’s Ryan Carpenter, who put on a one-man, third-period show against Notre Dame Saturday, scoring the tying and winning goals in the 3-2 game. He had an assist in Friday’s 2-1 BG loss, too.

Offensive player of the week: Michigan State senior captain (and defenseman) Torey Krug, who had two goals and three assists in MSU’s road sweep of Ohio State, including the winner Saturday.

Defenseman of the week: Michigan junior Lee Moffie, who had two goals in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Miami, including the short-handed, game-winning goal. Moffie also had an assist in Friday’s game.

Goaltender of the week: Michigan senior Shawn Hunwick, who allowed one goal in the Wolverines’ two-game sweep of Miami, with a weekend save percentage of .981.

My ballot

1. Minnesota
2. Minnesota-Duluth
3. Boston College
4. Boston University
5. Michigan
6. Merrimack
7. Massachusetts-Lowell
8. Ferris State
9. Maine
10. Colorado College
11. Notre Dame
12. Union
13. Cornell
14. Western Michigan
15. Denver
16. Miami
17. Michigan State
18. North Dakota
19. Northern Michigan
20. Lake Superior