CINCINNATI — As the Michigan hockey team headed onto the ice for the start of the overtime period, coach Red Berenson pointed at the goal on the right, where the seventh-ranked Wolverines would be attacking.
“I told (assistant coach Brian Wiseman), ‘This is the net, to our right, that Brendan Morrison scored the overtime goal in 96’,” Berenson said.
In 1996, Morrison scored the game-winning goal to lift Berenson to his first national championship at Michigan, defeating Colorado College, 3-2, in overtime.
20 years later, the Wolverines skated onto the US Bank Arena ice in Cincinnati in almost the same predicament.
Michigan and No. 12 Notre Dame were tied at two, but instead of playing for the national championship; the two teams were playing for a chance to continue on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
And with 8:19 gone in the overtime period, history repeated itself.
Junior forward JT Compher found fellow junior forward Tyler Motte with a no-look, behind-the-back pass that Motte buried for the game-winning goal to lift the Wolverines to a 3-2 overtime victory.
“At this point in the year, (Compher) has a feeling for where me or Kyle are going to be,” Motte said. “Some would call it a blind pass, but he was trying to put something at the net there in overtime and you never really know what’s going to happen.”
But it wasn’t easy for Michigan. The top line of Motte, Compher and freshman forward Kyle Connor had a frustrating night up to that point, registering 10 shots without any success, a rarity by their standards.
“We went in with the mentality to play hard, physical and with a lot of energy,” said Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork. “We did that for most of the game, obviously, just came up short at the end.”
Early in the game, it was the second line of senior forwards Boo Nieves and Justin Selman and junior forward Alex Kile that got the Wolverines on the board first.
Tic-tac-toe passing from Kile and junior defenseman Michael Downing found Selman all alone in the slot. Selman one-timed the puck over Notre Dame goaltender Cal Peterson’s left shoulder to put the Wolverines up by one with just over ten minutes gone in the game.
But Notre Dame came right back five minutes later when Bjork muscled Downing off the puck to create a two-on-one for the Fighting Irish. Instead of passing to his streaking teammate, Bjork fired the puck from inside the right faceoff circle, beating Racine stick side for his team-leading 34th point of the season.
“Coming into the game, I wanted to have an attack mindset,” Bjork said. “My coaches have been harping on me all season long to be a shooter, so I was thinking shoot first.”
While the two teams went into the first intermission tied, 24 seconds into the second period, Notre Dame took its first lead of the night.
Bjork raced into the Michigan zone, handling the puck past two Wolverines before dropping off to forward Thomas DiPauli. DiPauli wasted no time, one timing the puck over Racine’s right shoulder and into the net.
Notre Dame controlled most of the second period after its early goal. But despite outshooting Michigan, 9-6, the Fighting Irish couldn’t muster another goal past Racine in the period.
The back-and-forth affair continued into the third period, when Michigan found its footing and went into attack mode.
Michigan’s pressure paid off with 9:52 left in the game, when the Wolverines found the tying goal when Nieves found sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski open at the point. Werenski fired a rocket of a one-time shot to beat Peterson stick side and knot the game at two and send it into overtime.
In goal, both Racine and Peterson had good nights, making save after save to keep their team in the game Racine finished with 28 saves, while Peterson finished with 32.
“(Racine) made some big saves early,” Werenski said. “Without that, we would been in a pretty big hole. For him to go out there and make those saves, that’s huge. In a tournament like this, you really need good goaltending, and Steve really stepped up for us.”
Added Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson: “(Peterson) has that ability to get in the zone, and he was in the zone tonight. … You get that kind of goaltending, and you hope you’ll get one extra goal to win the game for him. He certainly did his part.”
With the win, Michigan will take on No. 3 North Dakota Saturday night with the chance to make the Frozen Four.
But even if the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament run ends Saturday night, the goal to the right of Michigan’s bench at the US Bank Arena will house not one, but two of its most timely goals of all time.