Michigan's power play came alive in the second period, creating momentum the Wolverines rode to a 3-2 comeback victory over rival Michigan State Friday. The win was U-M's first at Yost Ice Arena since Dec. 15, ending a three-game skid in its own barn.
"We've had a lot of things to fix with our team, and I don't know that they are all fixed just because of one game, but I think they feel better as players about their individual work ethic in the game tonight and our collective work ethic for an entire 60 minutes, not just for part of a period or half of a game," head coach Red Berenson said.
"I thought our team put it on the line tonight for 60 minutes. The game could have gone either way, but I like the momentum we got in the second period, and then we finally got the goals we needed in the third."
The Spartans struck first when poor defensive-zone play doomed the Maize and Blue yet again. Both sophomore defenseman Brennan Serville and senior forward Jeff Rorhkemper had a chance to clear the puck but didn't, and Brent Darnell capitalized with a marker at 4:53, rifling his odd-angle shot over surprise starter Jared Rutledge's glove hand.
Rutledge was making his first start since a 5-0 loss at Ferris State Nov. 30, and appeared rusty at first, but he eventually settled into net and would turn aside 21 shots, likely earning him a second consecutive start Saturday afternoon.
Trailing 1-0 after 20 minutes, the Wolverines said a locker-room intervention lit a fire, and they skated aggressively in the second, tying the score at 1-1 thanks to some nifty passing on a 3-on-1 and junior forward Derek DeBlois burying the puck when he had the chance.
"I think guys stepped up in the locker room; they said, 'this is the time, our energy, we kind of fall apart.' I think we came out hard, had a pretty good power play and went from there," freshman Boo Nieves said.
U-M took the lead 7:20 into the third period when Nieves fired a one-timer feed from sophomore Phil Di Giuseppe past MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand.
Nieves struck again, off another feed from Di Giuseppe, at 4:51, after Michigan State had knotted the score at 2-2. Showing off the speed that made him a second-round NHL Draft pick, Nieves attacked the slot, skating past a Spartan defender as he bore down on Hildebrand. Di Giuseppe put the puck on the doorstep for Nieves to redirect in.
"Boo has been a dangerous player, one of our most dangerous players nearly every game, especially in the second half, and it was nice to see him get rewarded like he did," Berenson said. "He had some good shots that missed the net tonight, but he had a strong game, and when you score a goal you get a lot more confidence. He just got better as the game went on."
The victory moved Michigan into an eight-place tie with Bowling Green in the CCHA standings (though BGSU has the tiebreaker), distancing the Maize and Blue from the basement-dwelling Spartans, whom now sit alone in last with 16 points (U-M has 22).
These two teams will meet again Saturday at 4:00 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena. Fox Sports Detroit will carry the game live.