Freshman goalie Steve Racine won't start Saturday night due to a predetermined game plan by coach Red Berenson to split starts between his two rookie netminders, but he deserves to after recording 30 saves, eight (unofficially) the great variety, in leading Michigan to a 4-2 win over Miami (Ohio) Friday.
"I thought he battled hard throughout the game and made the saves that he's capable of making and maybe a couple that he shouldn't have made," Berenson said.
It was actually an ignominious start for Racine as he misplayed the puck behind his own goal, and then in rushing to get back to the crease knocked the net off-balance. MU forward Cody Murphy sent the puck across the goal line but with the net off its moorings the puck sailed into the end boards. Following a lengthy deliberation and a video review, the referees correctly issued a goal at 3:14.
But that was Racine's only fault (the RedHawks' second goal came off a terrible turnover by senior center A.J. Treais) as he turned aside odd-man-rushes, perfect one-timers, rebounds galore and more, many in spectacular fashion.
His effort allowed U-M to claw back into the game, with Treais notching a power-play goal with his slapshot from the high slot at 17:27 of the first period. Treais would score again at 6:32 of the second with a sick wrist shot from just outside the left faceoff circle to stake the Wolverines to a 2-1 lead.
"I've kind of taken it upon myself the last few games to score and gotten lucky on a few shots," Treais said. "But as a captain, you want to step up for your team."
Miami scored the equalizer at 11:52 when Treais' giveaway behind Michigan's own net landed on Austin Czarnik's stick, and he buried the puck before Racine even knew what had happened.
The miscue was one more in a litany of turnovers and poor clearing attempts that dogged the Maize and Blue in the second period. But after they came out of the locker room to start the third, they were a different team, hungrier, more committed to solid team defense, and willing to go the extra mile to create offensive chances.
"I thought we were in a rush to leave our zone, and a lot of times we were leaving it without the puck and expecting the puck to come," Berenson said, explaining the first and second periods when U-M surrendered 23 of its 32 shots.
"Maybe our defense wasn't making as good of plays, and maybe our forwards weren't giving them good targets and good plays to make. So it was a combination of errors and it was really sloppy hockey. And then we came out in the third period, and it was like the hockey game started again."
Pushing his work ethic to the brink, sophomore forward Alex Guptill kept extending the play for the Wolverines, eventually pushing the puck into the offensive zone, slipping it past a defender and onto the stick of sophomore defenseman Mike Chiasson, who had slid unmolested behind the defense and on the doorstep of the goal. He fluttered a shot past MU goalie Jay Williams at 8:41 of the third to give Michigan a 3-2 lead.
"It was just kind of one of those plays where I was trying to dump the puck in, bounce back, got caught in my paraphernalia, dropped it down, chipped at Gupps, hit off his skate, ended up finding me and I just kind of chipped it in and just ended up beating him - heck of a play by Gupps," Chiasson said.
Guptill would finish off the RedHawks when he pounced on a loose puck off a Jacob Trouba point shot, tallying his third goal of the season at 12:15 of the third.
"I thought we started well and finished well," Berenson said. "The middle period was probably their period - we were lucky to come out of it tied. For the most part, we knew this was the kind of hockey we would see. It's a hard-nosed, hard-fought game. We got the goals that we needed in the third period and Racine made some big saves."
1. Steve Racine: The rookie netminder improved to 3-0 by making a career-high 30 saves, but these weren't the easy variety that he mostly faced in 7-2 and 6-3 victories over RIT and Bentley, respectively, the past two weeks. Racine had to make point-blank stops, using every piece of equipment he wore, including his skates as he denied 2-on-1s, goalmouth deflections, screened slapshots and more. He won't start Saturday, but he's taken the early lead to be U-M's No. 1 goalie.
2. A.J. Treais: The senior pounded his stick into the ice following his flub in the second period that led to Miami's goal, but that was his only blemish on a night in which he scored Michigan's first two goals, giving him five on the year. Treais' first marker was critical. The Wolverines were on their heels after MU scored early, and their power play was flailing, failing to take advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity earlier in the period. That's when Treais unleashed a wicked slap shot from the point that made its way through a mess of people and past Williams.
3. Alex Guptill: Chiasson played well, picking up a goal and an assist, and finishing plus-2, but Guptill essentially did all the work for Chiasson's goal except putting it past the netminder himself. It was a true testament to the kind of player the sophomore can be when he's willing to adopt a workmanlike attitude on the ice. And that effort was rewarded a few minutes later when Guptill found himself left of the crease, with the puck in his grasp, and an open net waiting to be flushed.