MARQUETTE – If Michigan can take one positive out of this weekend, it’s that the Wolverines put a worthy defensive effort on the ice Saturday for their goaltender Al Montoya. This came one night after Montoya was repeatedly under attack from Northern Michigan shooters, who used every second opportunity they got with no consistent opposition from Michigan’s offense.
Just a minute into the weekend opener, Montoya made a pad save on a Chris Gobert slap shot, but found himself out of place when senior Terry Harrison broke free from the Wolverines’ defenders to put the deflected shot into the half-empty net.
At the 13:37 mark of the second period, the Wildcats’ Mike Stutzel attacked what had been a solid Michigan penalty kill for the past few weeks, when he plowed his way through the left side of the defense, shot and scored off his own rebound.
Then when things looked like Michigan was going to get back into the game down just one in the third period, Gobert received a breakaway on the left side of the ice. Montoya was up to the challenge again, stopping the initial attempt, but was left helpless when Harrison was there to notch his second tally of the night.
Even when Michigan pulled its goalie with a minute left, it couldn’t catch a break. The left Michigan post made the first save on Northern Michigan freshman Dirk Southern, but Stutzel finished off the fourth second-chance goal of the night.
“Yeah, rebounds were a factor in the game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We’ve got to pick up sticks as they beat us to the puck on the first goal. The fourth goal was also a rebound goal where (Montoya) made the save and a forward didn’t pick up the stick. So it’s defense more than anything … not just our defensemen, but everybody playing better defensively.”
Although his goal kept the Wolverines in the game, freshman forward Jeff Tambellini was quick to admit that he and his teammates’ defensive flaws were too much to overcome.
“(Friday) we didn’t get back,” Tambellini said. “We didn’t get back into the zone as quick as we can. We didn’t pick up sticks. And in this league if guys are loose in the slot they’re going to score.
“We gotta pay more attention coming back hard, and working harder to come back than we do coming up the ice.”
Northern Michigan goalie Craig Kowalski, on the other hand, seemed to have a magnet in his glove as no matter where the Wolverines shot it, the puck would end up in the junior’s mitt foiling any thought of a second-chance goal.
“I thought (that with) the chances we had, we should have scored,” Tambellini said. “He made some great saves – I have to give it to him. But we didn’t get people in front of him and that’s what we have to do. They got people in front of our goalie and we didn’t get in front of theirs.”