By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 27, 2013
DETROIT – Late into the first period, freshman forward Evan Allen found the puck in the right circle with room to shoot on the net. But no sooner could he wind up his stick than he whiffed on the attempt as the cracked, snowy ice slowed the puck.
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For all the hype and anticipation that came with playing hockey outdoors, the ice on the field of Comerica Park, home to MLB’s Detroit Tigers, slowed play down for the No. 3 Michigan hockey team.
Ultimately, the slowed play combined with the Wolverines’ defensive miscues and turnovers in their own zone cost them as they fell, 3-2, to Western Michigan (8-8-3) in overtime of Friday’s semifinal round of the Great Lakes Invitational.
Junior forward Travis Lynch’s tying goal in the third period forced overtime, but it was the Broncos’ Josh Pitt who made a nifty move to weave through the defense and beat freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort in the extra frame for the win.
Michigan (10-3-2) could only watch as Pitts deked a trio of defenders en route to a breakaway attempt. It was one of the Wolverines’ multiple miscues in the game that resulted in all three goals and increased time spent in their own zone.
“They wouldn’t let us out of the zone.” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Even when we brought it up to the blue line, we turned it over and had to play tired in our zone.”
Michigan will face Michigan State in the consolation game Saturday in a rematch of last year’s faceoff. Like they did Friday, the Wolverines will play without sophomore forward and alternate captain Andrew Copp, who is currently playing in Sweden for the U.S. junior national team.
Freshman forward JT Compher scored on a shorthanded goal for the second time this season, playing less than two weeks after he was sent home from the U.S. junior team training camp in Minnesota with an apparent broken foot.
“It’s feeling pretty good,” Compher said. “I was glad to be out there.”
Compher didn’t specify when he found out he would play, nor would his coach specify on the injury that was thought to be a broken foot at first.
Fellow freshman forward Tyler Motte also returned to action 24 hours before puck drop after he was one of the last to be cut from the U.S. junior team on Thursday in Sweden.
Michigan had its chances all throughout the game with eight power-play opportunities and nothing to show for them. It marked the third straight game in which Michigan went scoreless on the power play.
“I thought we got better as the game went on and started to get some chances, but we still couldn’t bury one,” Berenson said. “I thought we had good puck control, but the puck either didn’t go through or didn’t go in.”
The scoring opened up in the second period with Compher’s breakaway attempt, but it represented one of the few instances in which Michigan controlled the puck.
Less than four minutes later, unmarked in front of the net, Broncos forward Shane Berschbach fired the puck past freshman netminder Zach Nagelvoort to tie the game at one. Nagelvoort, who had 27 saves, started his third straight game, including an exhibition loss against the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Western Michigan’s Will Kessel gave his team its first lead of the night with a shot too quick for Nagelvoort, who hung his head in defeat. But Nagelvoort held on to bail out the Wolverines from the sloppy conditions to force the overtime before a late penalty kill proved to be too much.
Outside, the already-cracked ice from games and practices that started two weeks prior turned to shavings quickly. Fast skaters like sophomore forward Boo Nieves and senior forward Luke Moffatt struggled to accelerate, while others lost their balance.
“It didn’t have a bearing on the game at all,” Berenson said.
Added senior defenseman Mac Bennett: “They had to play on the same ice. There’s no effect (on how we played).”