By JACK VANASSCHE, Sports Editor
Even without leading goal scorer Tyler Groat or top defenseman and team captain Ryan Urso, the University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team continues to play at a high level.
Over the weekend, the No. 10 Wolverines swept two home games against No. 24 Kent State, scoring seven goals in each contest.
The conference showdown kicked off Friday night at the UM-Dearborn Ice Arena where the Wolverines quickly jumped the Golden Flashes for a 1-0 lead.
Kent State answered before the end of the period to knot the game at 1-1, and the two teams seemed as if they might be preparing for a tight one in the later periods.
In the second period, however, the Wolverines took charge and never looked back.
Justin Dunn scored would eventually become the game winner in the second period to put his team on top 2-1.
Dunn’s second period goal would stand as the first of six unanswered goals for the Wolverines, sending them to a blowout 7-1 victory over the ranked Flashes.
“A lot of times, it’s a feeling out process,” said head coach Chris Haltinner on his team’s late bloom. “When you feel it and it happens, then you turn it up. I’m really proud of our guys today.”
Dunn finished the game with two goals and tacked on three assists. Sophomore Nic LaBurn also scored two goals and added one assist. Kevin Bechard scored his eighteenth goal of the season in the game, good for second on the team behind only Tyler Groat.
Groat and Urso were absent for the entire series as they rounded out their time competing in the World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, forcing the Wolverines to play up on all sides of the ice.
“I think everyone stepped up, you know?” Haltinner said. Everyone stepped up from (Kris) Wilson to (Andy) Carreras to (John) Barlow– the whole team stepped up. Everyone played a big role, not just one guy or one line but every guy on any line.”
The Wolverines wrapped up the weekend series on Saturday night with a 7-2 win over the Flashes.
“We had to bounce back after that tough loss last Friday,” said sophomore forward Andrew Spiegel in reference to the team’s 4-3 loss at Indiana Tech a week ago.
Saturday’s win marked the thirteenth win in 14 games for the Wolverines (17-6-1, 9-5 Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League), with the loss at Indiana Tech the lone blemish since early November.
Forward Sean Moore got Kent State on the board first with a quick goal less than five minutes into the game.
The lead was the first the Golden Flashes held all weekend and disappeared as quickly as it came after Jeff McFarland scored just a minute later. Andrew Palushaj got the lone assist on the score.
At the end of the first, the game remained tied at 1-1.
A wild second period would define the game and ultimately the weekend for the Wolverines.
Spiegel gave the Wolverines the lead three minutes into the second period after a long lead pass from McFarland led Spiegel into the zone all alone. Spiegel deked left and buried the shot behind the sprawled netminder to take a 2-1 lead.
The period was mostly quiet for the next ten minutes until a loud crash was heard after a hit along the boards behind the Kent State net.
After a big hit into the boards, the entire glass panel was jostled loose and slammed onto the concrete floor. No glass was actually broken, but the teams were directed to the locker rooms with 5:39 left in the second period while faculty replaced the glass.
During the lengthy delay, officials decided to clear the ice for the zamboni and used the delay as an early second intermission.
Less than a minute after play resumed, junior defenseman Marcus McSweeney batted in a goal from the air to pad the lead to 3-1. Nate Merchak and LaBurn were given assists on the goal.
At the conclusion of the second period, both teams went to the bench for roughly two minutes before play was picked directly back up for the third period.
The Wolverines then began an assault on the Kent State net, scoring four goals in the period; three of them in a 60-second span.
McSweeney scored a powerplay goal with just under nine minutes left in the game to push the lead out to 4-1. McFarland and LaBurn were credited with the assists.
Then, with 6:58 remaining, freshman forward Christian Ramage scored his first career goal with assists from Andy Carreras and Spiegel to swell the lead to 5-1.
McFarland found the scoresheet again 14 seconds later with an assist from Palushaj to make it 6-1.
Troy Saunders finished the Wolverines’ scoring frenzy with a power play goal 39 seconds later to bloat the lead to 7-1.
Forward TJ West got one back for the Flashes after he beat Wolverine goaltender Thomas Proudlock with just over a minute remaining in the game.
Proudlock finished the game with 26 saves on 28 shots and earned his team-leading tenth win in the process.
“He’s been tremendous for us,” said Spiegel after the win. “He’s just a sophomore but he’s making big saves when we need him to. It’s great to see.”
The Wolverines outshot the Flashes 40-28 in Saturday’s win– a win they hope can carry them into next week’s home series against No. 1 Minot State.
“How hard we’re working and then to see the results we’re getting, it’s exciting,” said Spiegel. “But we’re gonna have to do the gritty stuff (against Minot State). You know, get down in the corners and lock and grind a little bit.”
Haltinner is insistent on pulling in as big of a crowd as possible on Friday and Saturday nights with the Wolverines tasked with handling the top team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
“I mean, Minot’s no joke. Minot’s gonna bring it. They have one loss and are first in the country for a reason, and that’s gonna be a battle.
“Our guys think we can take on anyone in the country on any given night. If we get it packed here, that’s gonna give us a boost. The more people that we can get here– that’s what we want.”
The university is pulling out all of the stops for the showdown against Minot State, offering the first 500 fans to the UM-Dearborn Ice Arena a free rally towel and offering free pizza and beverages to all Wolverine supporters on Friday night.
Students, faculty and staff get into the game for free, while admission to the public remains five dollars.
“I think we’re gonna be competitive against them,” Haltinner said. “They’re number one, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.”
Puck drop will be at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night at the UM-Dearborn Ice Arena in the Fieldhouse.