Michigan Rolling Again
by James V. Dowd/CHN Reporter
DETROIT If there has been one thing missing from No. 9 Michigan's game this season, it has been consistency of intensity.
But if the team's last two games are any sign of things to come, No. 1 Notre Dame better be prepared for a war Saturday night and NCAA tournament teams must keep their eyes peeled for the Wolverines around the corner.
After thrashing Northern Michigan 8-3 to clinch a first round sweep in Ann Arbor last weekend, Michigan fed off of a penalty shot saved by goaltender Billy Sauer in a 5-2 victory over rival No. 10 Michigan State tonight.
Michigan State dominated the early stages of the game, but Sauer turned the tables when he stopped Spartan star Justin Abdelkader on a penalty after Abdelkader was tripped on a first period breakaway by Michigan defenseman Matt Hunwick.
"That penalty shot that Billy stopped gave this team tons of momentum," Michigan forward T.J. Hensick said. "(It gave us) huge confidence in Billy, and kind of turned things around."
Once the tide turned, Michigan never looked back, scoring three goals in the middle frame.
The second period flurry was begun by freshman Chris Summers, who only recently switched to forward after playing defense for most of the year. Summers had primarily taken a role as a player to create space for the likes of Andrew Cogliano and Chad Kolarik, but stepped his game up a notch by walking the Michigan State defense and beating Spartan goaltender Jeff Lerg on a small breakaway.
"The goal by Chris Summers was a huge goal to get us the lead in the game," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "After that, I thought the wheels started to turn in our favor, and we got another one."
But even with that ever-important one goal lead, Michigan didn't let off the gas. Just 64 seconds later, Hensick found his linemate Kevin Porter open on the back side of the net for any easy goal. The pair would also team up again for Michigan's third goal.
Back in November, during the first of six meeting between the in-state rivals, Michigan learned the hard way that a second period lead is not safe, as they lost 7-4 after leading 3-1 at the end of one period.
This time around, Michigan State did once again make a late comeback effort, but this time, the Wolverines raised their level of intensity to match their opponent rather than folding. In fact, once the Spartans notched their first goal of the night, Michigan answered just 50 seconds later.
"Well the third goal was huge," Berenson said. "A two-goal lead is never safe and certainly even a three-goal lead sometimes, but a two-goal lead for sure. The third goal is huge. And then to give up one, we didn't like that. But to get one right back, that was good."
As the Wolverines head into tomorrow nights CCHA Championship game against the Fighting Irish, Berenson knows that his team must maintain this newfound consistency of intensity to stand a chance.
"(Notre Dame is) a tough team to play against," Berenson said. "They play so well defensively and they play so well in their own zone. They certainly don't give you much. They're a disciplined team. They play strong, hard, good defense. I think our team will have to play better tomorrow night than we played tonight to be able to compete with them."