“The ability to finish teams really determines a champion — (championship) teams can just put away guys in the second periods, first periods, and not even let them get back in the game.
“We just couldn’t find that fourth goal.”
— Michigan junior Jeff Tambellini
GRAND RAPIDS — The Wolverines didn’t have to look far for chances, but that fourth goal eluded them. After Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead just two minutes into the second period, Colorado College goalie Curtis McElhinney held Michigan scoreless for the final 38 minutes of the game.
But it wasn’t all McElhinney. On some of Michigan’s best chances, McElhinney didn’t even have to make the save. Instead, Michigan continually misfired when it needed goals most.
In the second period, with Michigan leading 3-2, Wolverines forward Milan Gajic skated in all alone on McElhinney. Gajic deked and shot, but his attempt floated too high. It soared over the cross bar, and even over the boards, into the protective net above the top of the glass.
“I saw the puck bounce up,” McElhinney said. “I knew that he was going to go high glove, actually, as soon as he pulled it to his side there. But it bounced up, and he fired it into the (protective) net. So we caught a break there.”
After Colorado College had clawed all the way back to tie the game 3-3 in the third period, Michigan junior Andrew Ebbett skated toward the goal as a puck ricocheted off the back boards. The puck slipped out to the immediate left of the net, and McElhinney was late getting over. Ebbett had a sliver of an open net to shoot at, but his quick shot squirted too far right and across the crease. When Ebbett got back to the bench he slammed his stick against the boards in frustration.
“I was just trying to tell the guys and tell the seniors, ‘Is this the way you want to go out? Is this how you want to end your career? Stay after it. There’s still hockey left,’ ” Michigan captain Eric Nystrom said. “You get that one chance, that rebound, and it goes in the net and you go into overtime. We just couldn’t generate that chance.”
Even later in the waning minutes, Michigan had two last chances to knot the game at 4-4.
Senior Eric Werner flipped an in-stride pass from the defensive zone up to Michigan senior David Moss. With three minutes remaining, the forward skated into the Colorado College zone and got behind the defense. Colorado College defenseman Richard Petiot caught up to Moss and hooked him as McElhinney stoned Moss’s shot. Petiot was whistled for a penalty and Michigan had one final power play to tie the game.
The Colorado College penalty kill kept the Michigan power play at bay, but the Wolverines had one final opportunity. Michigan sophomore T.J. Hensick skated through the Colorado College zone and slid a pass over to Gajic. The senior wound up and fired a slap shot, but McElhinney was up to the task again. He got his stick on Michigan’s final chance and sent the puck to the right, out of harm’s way.
“They have an extremely good power play there,” McElhinney said. “They move it around very well. They made a nice pass at the end there, and I think it was (Gajic who) made a nice shot. (But) he kind of fired it into me. The stick was behind me a bit there.”
For Michigan’s 10 seniors, the blown opportunities will resonate for a long time.
“You’ve got to take advantage of the chance when you’re there,” Nystrom said. “We can keep saying this, and we’ve been saying it for four years, but our four years is up. That killer instinct to put a team down; that killer instinct to take the jump and get to that game you want to be in — we’ve been saying it, but we just haven’t done it.”