DETROIT – For Ferris State forwards Chris Kunitz and Jeff Legue this season, the CCHA has been theirs. Going into Saturday night’s game against Michigan the two had combined for 55 goals and 70 assists, flying by defenders and creating odd-man rushes at the greatest of ease.

J. Brady McCollough
Michigan forward Dwight Helminen and Ferris State captain Troy Milam tangle for a loose puck on Saturday night.

But that all stopped with the Mason Cup at stake, as the duo was silent in five-on-five situations. The Michigan coaching staff devised a plan after Friday night’s semifinal to keep the two snipers at bay, putting tabs on the Bulldogs’ top line every time they stepped on the ice.

“We were aware when Kunitz was out there,” Michigan defenseman Andy Burnes said. “We had a stick on them, we were in their face. We get in their kitchen, and they get off their game.”

Kunitz, one of 10 Hobey Baker Award finalists, had just one shot on net the entire game when the Bulldogs were not on the powerplay. Legue had just three. This was because Michigan was able to keep up with them, leaving them unable to create the odd-man rushes they have wreaked havoc on all season. The two had averaged eight shots per game going into the Super Six.

“Both ourselves and (Michigan) are two of the quicker teams (in the league),” Daniels said. “I think (in a lot of other games) we were able to generate offense because of our quickness. So the things that would develop into an odd-man rush weren’t developing.”

Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson gave credit to head coach Red Berenson and assistant Billy Powers for preparing the forwards and defensemen, respectively. Stopping the Bulldogs’ top line effectively shut down their offense, considering 70 of Ferris State’s 172 goals this season (40.7-percent) had come from Kunitz, Legue or linemate Derek Nesbitt. And 112 of the Bulldogs’ goals (65.1-percent) came from one of their top two lines.

“If we shutdown that No. 1 line, they don’t have anything,” goalie Al Montoya said. “Our defense, we haven’t played this well in I don’t know how long.”

The only time the vaunted line caused Michigan trouble was on the powerplay, which was a surprise considering the Ferris State powerplay came into the game ranked fifth in the league. The Bulldogs first two goals came with an extra man, as Kunitz blasted a shot over Montoya’s glove from the blueline in the first period, and defenseman Simon Mangos scored on a pass from Legue while on a break.

Kunitz’s goal came from a change in the Bulldog powerplay that moved the league’s top scorer to the point from behind the net, his role until the Bulldogs’ playoff series against Lake Superior State last week. Instead, Legue took the puck behind the net – and fired it to an open Kunitz.

“There is a reason he’s scored 33 goals and is a Hobey Baker candidate,” Pearson said. “He’s going to get his chances in a game and some of them are going to go in.”

But that shot was the only other one Kunitz had on net, as the Bulldogs had just 11 shots on net in the first two periods.

Add to that a solid performance in net from Montoya, and the Wolverines were playing solid playoff hockey.

“Our whole mindset going into this weekend was to play good, strong defensive hockey,” Burnes said. “Because we knew defense was going to win the tournament for us. In playoff hockey, that’s what it comes down to is good defense and good goaltending.”

But the team’s good defense is going to have to continue at next week’s NCAA Midwest regional if the Wolverines are going to reach their ultimate destination, the Frozen Four.

“Our eyes are set on next (Saturday),” Burnes said. “We know we’re going to have to continue (playing) good defense and good goaltending.”

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