By Karl Henkel/at the CCHA Championship
DETROIT - It would be hard for the Michigan Wolverines and Northern Michigan Wildcats to trump the Miami-Notre Dame overtime thriller of earlier in the day, but boy, did both teams try.
In a game that looked like it should have been a blowout, the Wildcats somehow managed to keep up with the CCHA regular-season champion Wolverines, but Michigan took care of business down the stretch in coming out victorious, 6-4.
“They are the number one team in the nation for a reason,” NMU's Mark Olver said after the loss.
The opening 20 minutes of play were dominated by the Wolverines, who took an early 1-0 lead courtesy of Chad Kolarik, who netted his 28th goal of the season. Michigan was also superb defensively, holding the Wildcats to just two shots on goal. NMU made one of those count, though, as Matt Butcher took a feed from Gregor Hanson and one-timed it past UM goalie Billy Sauer with just over five minutes to play in the stanza, tying the game at one.
Just 39 seconds later, though, NMU put themselves behind the 8-ball, as Billy Smith was assessed a five-minute checking from behind penalty, plus a game misconduct.
Early in period two, the Wildcats had killed it off, but Michigan remained on the offensive, firing shot after shot at NMU goalie Brian Stewart. Stewart continued to hold his own until Travis Turnbull hammered home his 14th goal midway through the session.
But the pesky Wildcats responded again when Olver backhanded a shot from in close under the pads of Sauer with 5:06 to go, knotting the game up at two apiece.
As the period was winding down, NMU's Matt Siddall took a drop pass from Nick Sirota and hit the far top corner with a wrist shot to give the Wildcats an improbable lead, despite being outshot 25-6 at the time.
“I tried a drop pass back and they took it and made a good transition,” Michigan's Tim Miller said.
At the beginning of the final frame, in what looked like a harmless rush, Michigan's Chad Langlais came streaking down the left wing and attempted a pass to Miller. The puck instead ricochet off Miller's skate and past a startled Stewart.
Immediately following the goal, while the maintenance crew at Joe Louis Arena worked on a broken piece of glass, CCHA director of officials Steve Piotrowski reviewed the goal, but determined Miller did not intentionally kick the puck in.
After a Wildcat penalty, Michigan's power play went to work with Turnbull redirecting a Mark Mitera shot 6:30 in. It was Turnbull's first career two-goal game in his time at Michigan.
But NMU again tied up this score as Jared Brown chipped one home from just outside the Michigan crease.
With the score at 4-4, and four minutes to play, Kolarik turned in the right circle and fired a shot that was – you guessed it – redirected by Miller past Stewart once again.
“Puck luck,” was how Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle described all of Michigan's redirected goals.
The Wolverines capped it off with a long, slow, length-of-the-ice marker by Ben Winnett with 11.2 seconds to go. “
"It was a crazy game,” Wolverines head coach Red Berenson said after the game. “If you looked at the shots and the score, there were two different games.”
For the game, Stewart stopped 36 of 41 shots, while Sauer allowed four goals on 22 shots.
Michigan will play Miami in tomorrow's CCHA championship final. NMU takes on Notre Dame in the consolation game.