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Michigan beats Alaska to advance to CCHA championship game

BY CHRIS MESZAROS
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 20, 2009

The two teams battled to a series split earlier this season.

Anna Bakeman/ Daily
Aaron Pulushaj scores during a Wolverine power play in the thrid period of the CCHA Championship semifinals against Alaska on Friday March 20, 2009. The Wolverines won the game 3-1.

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Both were marquee teams in the CCHA for most of the season.

And tomorrow night, No. 3 Michigan and No. 1 Notre Dame will battle for the conference championship.

Michigan beat Alaska 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena tonight, setting the Wolverines up for a matchup with Notre Dame after it defeated Northern Michigan 2-1 in the first game of the CCHA semifinals.

But Alaska’s defense, led by the CCHA Player of the Year and goaltender Chad Johnson, didn’t make it easy.

After the Nanooks shut down the Wolverines (20-8-0 CCHA, 29-10-0 overall) through the first 17 minutes, Michigan opened the scoring late in the first period on the power play.

Alaska’s Bryant Molle checked sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj from behind into the boards. Molle received a five-minute penalty for checking from behind and a game misconduct.

And two minutes into the power play, the Wolverines capitalized.

Sophomore defensemen Chad Langlais received a perfect pass on the tape from senior Tim Miller, who was stationed along the boards. Langlais fired a shot that bounced off the side of Johnson but went into the net.

The Wolverines played sloppy in the second period. Not only did they miss on a wide-open scoring chance from forward Scooter Vaughan, who switched from his normal position at defense, they also played sloppy defense.

Alaska (13-10-5, 17-15-6) tied up the game after Braden Walls deflected a shot from the point from Joe Sova that went past sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan.

That left the game tied at one, but Michigan could have easily given up another goal or two in the next couple minutes. The Wolverines gave up two costly turnovers and played out of position on defense, allowing the Alaska forwards to power in close to Hogan. While Hogan made one nice save on a shot from the slot, another attempt bounced over Hogan’s glove and over the net.

Just as Michigan cleared the puck, junior Steve Kampfer and sophomore Louie Caporusso hooked up to give the Wolverines a 2-1 lead 16 minutes into the second period.

Kampfer skated down the right side of the ice and to the bottom of the right circle before dishing the puck off to Caporusso just outside the crease, who tipped it into the net.

While Michigan coach Red Berenson prefers to play a wide-open game, the Wolverines didn’t take too many chances in the third period. Alaska didn't have any odd-man rushes or point-blank scoring opportunities.

Instead, it was the Michigan defense that shut down the Nanooks, bringing back its forwards to backcheck against Alaska and keeping the Nanook forwards out of the slot.

With 2:22 remaining in the game, Alaska took a costly penalty that gave Michigan the opportunity to close out the game.

And with his team on the verge of elimination, Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson rolled the dice and pulled Johnson with 2:12 remaining to play.

But Palushaj made the Nanooks pay, scoring an empty netter just 16 seconds later to give Michigan a 3-1 win and a chance to play the Fighting Irish in the championship game.

Both Alaska and Notre Dame play similar styles of hockey, and the
Wolverines can only hope their battle tonight with the Nanooks somehow prepares them for the showdown with the top-seeded Fighting Irish at 7:30 tomorrow night.