Down 3-1 to Michigan Tech, Michigan didn’t panic and instead came back with four straight goals to win, 5-1, and take third place at the Great Lakes Invitational on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
“It was important to bounce back after last night,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “It was an important weekend for us and I liked how Billy Sauer kept us in the game.”
Sauer, the 17-year-old freshman, made 35 saves for the Wolverines, who improved to 42-29-1 all-time at the annual tournament and 8-4-1 in third place games.
Chad Kolarik (pictured above) scored with 3:04 remaining in regulation to complete the Wolverines’ comeback. On the game-winner, Kolarik and Tim Miller were behind the MTU net and on a broken give-and-go, Miller fed Kolarik to left of Huskies’ goalie Rob Nolan and Kolarik put a shot on net that handcuffed Nolan and went in.
“I don’t even remember the pass,” said Kolarik. “I just threw it at the net and I got lucky.”
Tyler Shelast put the Huskies on the board at 4:11 of the first period on an MTU power play. Geoff Kinrade kept in a Michigan clearing attempt at the blue line, dished off to Mike Batovanja, who found Shelast to Sauer’s right. Shelast gloved down Batovanja’s pass and stuffed the puck past Sauer for the early 1-0 lead.
The Wolverines answered at 11:36 on their own man-advantage as T.J. Hensick walked in on Nolan and wired a shot top corner glove side to knot the game at 1-apiece.
Michigan Tech captain Brandon Schwartz then gave MTU a one-goal lead as he poked in an easy goal at 8:25. Chris Conner’s initial shot hit the right post, but Schwartz followed up and had an empty net as Sauer was down and out.
Two minutes later on a 5-on-3 power play, Lars Helminen’s blast from the point beat Sauer stick side and the Huskies had a two-goal cushion.
But as the old hockey cliché goes, a two-goal lead is the most unsafe lead and Michigan exploited that theory.
At 12:37, Matt Hunwick fought off a check pinching in and re-directed a Brandon Naurato pass off Nolan to being U-M back to within a goal.
Jason Bailey tied the game 5:07 into the third period. Hensick gathered a bouncing puck at the left-wing goal line and centered a pass to Bailey who tipped the puck five-hole on Nolan.
“That tying goal gave us life,” added Berenson. “It was huge for us.”
“We’re coming close,” Conner said. “But we have to learn to play with the lead. We have a young team, but we still need to capitalize.”
Miller iced the game with an empty-netter at 19:28.
Nolan finished with 33 stops.
“We came into this game with a bad taste in our mouth and we just wanted to get rolling,” said Miller. “We played as hard as we could and wanted to give the fans a good show from Michigan.”
Maybe not early on, but as the final score will attest to, mission accomplished.
Michigan (12-6-1, 7-3-1 CCHA) hosts Alaska-Fairbanks next weekend. Michigan Tech (4-17-1, 3-10-1 WCHA) travels to Minnesota-Duluth Jan. 13-14.