Brad Phillips played a game for the ages. Having traveled three miles across Ann Arbor with the United States National Team Development Program to face the No. 6 Michigan hockey team in an exhibition game, the 17-year-old Farmington Hills native stood on his head, made 36 saves, and was just seconds away from leaving Yost Ice Arena with a 2-2 tie last night – no small feat against the bigger, faster and older Wolverines.
But in the distance, trouble was brewing. Michigan sophomore Travis Turnbull picked off a lazy pass and sent it up ice to junior Kevin Porter, bringing the crowd to its feet. Porter turned and found senior alternate captain T.J. Hensick breaking free of the USNTDP defense in the neutral zone.
Sixty-four minutes of team play had suddenly boiled down to one last showdown between the future Notre Dame goaltender and Michigan’s most prolific scorer.
Before he knew it, Phillips was sprawled on his back in despair. Hensick flew in from the right side of the zone, cut back to the left and let loose a backhanded shot that found the back of the net, giving the Wolverines a 3-2 victory with just four-tenths of a second left on the clock.
“That’s why you come to the rink,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “That’s why you buy a ticket – to see players like T.J. Hensick.”
Last night’s game was the third consecutive meeting between the teams in which the Wolverines needed to come from behind with late goals. After a scoreless first period, Colin Wilson opened the scoring for the USNTDP at 10:30 of the second period, with a shot from the left side that popped up behind Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer, just out of the sophomore’s reach.
Michigan tied the game late in the second on a power play-goal by sophomore Andrew Cogliano, with assists from Hensick and freshman defenseman Jack Johnson. In the ensuing moments, the Wolverines continued to put pressure on Phillips, most notably when Hensick spun around a USNTDP defender before shooting the puck into Phillips’ chest. But the goaltender stood strong.
Phillips got a boost from his teammates in the third period, when a mix-up between Michigan defensemen allowed 16-year-old Jimmy Hayes the opportunity to knock in a loose puck. Such breakdowns in communication can be common early in the season, and Berenson hopes to minimize them in the coming weeks.
“Any goal against is a concern,” Berenson said. “We’ll review all the goals against, and our players will learn from their mistakes. We’re going to make mistakes – this a game of mistakes.”
As the clock wound down in the third period, it appeared that Hayes’ goal would stand as the game-winner, and Michigan was forced to pull Sauer in favor of an extra attacker. The Wolverines received a big break as Sauer headed to the bench, when USNTDP forward James vanRiemsdyk was called for tripping just inside the USNTDP blue line.
At that point, Berenson used the Wolverines’ one timeout to calm his players down and outline a plan for the 6-on-4, empty-net power play.
“(The USNTDP had been doing a) good job of fronting our defensemen and keeping shots from getting through,” Berenson said. “(We told our guys) to battle for loose pucks and try to get shots through.”
After working the puck around the zone looking for an open shot, a series of passes from Hensick and junior Chad Kolarik found Johnson alone in the slot. Phillips froze as Johnson wound up, and the puck slipped between Phillips’ pads to send the game into overtime.
The two teams battled throughout the extra frame, notching four shots apiece before Hensick buried the Wolverines’ fifth attempt. The goal marked Hensick’s ninth point of the exhibition weekend. He contributed one goal and two assists against the USNTDP after scoring one goal and notching five assists in a 10-2 victory over Waterloo on Friday.
Hensick was one of five Wolverines with three or more points in Friday’s game. Johnson notched two goals and four assists, senior Matt Hunwick had four helpers to lead the defense, while Hensick’s linemates Porter and sophomore Jason Bailey recorded four and three points, respectively.
The Wolverines open the regular season next weekend, with games against Alabama-Huntsville on Friday and Connecticut on Saturday at Yost Ice Arena. Both games begin at 7:35 p.m.