DETROIT — After trading goals for the first two periods, the Michigan hockey team was in need of a go-ahead score. Tied at 2-2 four minutes into the third, freshman forward Kyle Connor took a pass from sophomore forward Dexter Dancs and wouldn’t let go.
Connor skated all of the way around the back of the net, wrapped around and fired a shot into the top-right corner for the game-winning goal.
The Wolverines (2-1-1 Big Ten, 10-3-3 overall) held on for the rest of the period, despite a five-minute major called on junior forward Alex Kile for a hit to the head. Northern Michigan (6-7-6) fought hard in the third period with 15 shots on goal, but it wasn’t enough. Michigan defeated the Wildcats, 3-2, and will move on to the championship game against Michigan Tech Wednesday night.
Connor, the Wolverines’ leading scorer, is now on a five-game point streak and leads all NCAA freshmen with 24 points.
For the first time this season, Cutler Martin found twine for the first goal of the game. Freshman defenseman Joseph Cecconi and Connor fed the sophomore defenseman the puck 11:41 minutes into the game for a point shot that hit the center of the crossbar and dropped in.
“That was (Martin’s) first of the season and he was excited,” Connor said. “I think anytime someone scores like that, you don’t really expect it (to go in) too often, and it always gives a lift to the bench and everyone was really excited.”
The goal was Michigan’s only one of the first period, despite its 16 shots on goal.
But the Wildcats responded with the equalizing goal to make it 1-1 just 2:39 into the second period. Northern Michigan forward Gerard Hanson tapped in a puck from inside the crease that left him on his back after fighting off sophomore forward Tony Calderone.
The Wildcats continued to lay it on. At the 11:41 mark of the second period, a shot trickled through senior goaltender Steve Racine’s legs and came to rest just short of the goal line, where Northern Michigan forward Dominik Shine knocked it in for the go-ahead goal.
But just over a minute later, sophomore defenseman Sam Piazza took a shot from the point, leaving senior forward Justin Selman to guide the airborne puck down into the net during a power play.
With multiple short-lived scraps breaking out in the first and second periods, it wasn’t surprising when Northern Michigan’s Hanson got kicked out of the game with a high hit on Cecconi. Hanson hit Cecconi straight-on near the corner boards 13:37 into the second period for a five-minute major, but the Wolverines failed to capitalize.
Michigan had only one shot on net during the five minutes leading up to the end of the second period during the major, but the lost time and opportunity didn’t end up haunting the Wolverines.
“I thought there were two key points in the game when either team could have taken advantage of a 5-minute major and it just didn’t happen,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I don’t know if we got a good shot on our power play and I don’t know if they got a good shot on theirs. I think it breaks a team to a point of a little bit more desperation, a little more urgency.”
Racine returned to action Tuesday night and had 34 saves after missing four games and over a month of his senior season due to a lower-body injury.
He was able to keep the puck out of the net despite a wild 15 shots in the final period, securing the Wolverines’ trip to the finals.
“We said at the start of the year one thing I like about our team is we have good depth on defense, but I didn’t know that we would be tested like this,” Berenson said. “It was tested tonight and I thought our discipline went pretty well.”