MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota attacked Michigan’s net from beginning to end yesterday, outshooting the Wolverines 39-33, but it was an accidental shot that put the game out of reach for the Gophers.
Trailing 2-1 with less than a minute to go, Minnesota was deep in its offensive zone when a pass back to the point missed its mark and slid the length of the rink into the Gophers’ own empty net.
Sophomore defenseman Brandon Rogers was credited with the goal, which secured Michigan’s 3-1 victory. Rogers called the tally the “luckiest” goal he has ever scored.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever scored without taking a shot,” Rogers said, adding that he didn’t realize at the time that he was the last Wolverine to touch the puck.
“I was just so excited – we saw it go in the net and it gave us a 3-1 cushion – that we were going to close out the game with 40 seconds left. So we were all just pretty happy about that.”
Michigan beat Wisconsin 4-1 on Friday in the first game of the College Hockey Showcase, but coach Red Berenson said the victory over the Gophers was huge.
“No question,” Berenson said. “It’s the biggest win of our year so far, because it was the strongest opponent in a great environment, in a well-played game in a game that we were on our heals a lot.”
Freshman Danny Richmond opened the scoring 6:33 into the first period on a Michigan powerplay.
The defenseman’s hard shot from the left circle sailed wide, but moments later he got the puck back in almost the same spot. He rifled his second chance by Minnesota goaltender Travis Weber.
Michigan took advantage of its opportunities all afternoon, as it came out of the second period with a 2-1 lead despite being outshot 16-7.
Minnesota’s Keith Ballard knotted the score at one early in the period.
Left winger Thomas Vanek got the puck on the right side of the crease, skated behind the net and banged a wrap-around shot off Michigan goaltender Al Montoya’s right pad. The puck caromed to Ballard, who was waiting on the right side of the crease and sent it into the open net.
Less than three minutes later, sophomore forward Dwight Helminen put the Wolverines back on top with his third shorthanded goal of the season.
The speedy center poked a clearing pass away from a Minnesota defender at the top of Michigan’s zone and raced in on Weber, burying a little wrister.
Montoya held off the Gophers the rest of the game finishing with 38 saves, including several in the closing minutes, and the Wolverines turned it on in the last period. The Wolverines outshot the Gophers 16-11 in the third.
“We had a good team period in the third period,” Rogers said. “We played good systems and we played road hockey – what we want to do to close out a team.”
This was Michigan’s first chance to face Minnesota since falling to the Gophers in last year’s Frozen Four, and that made the win even sweeter for the Wolverines.
“We could see their banner hanging up at the end of the rink that said 2002 National Champions, and we hated that feeling to end our season last year on a losing note,” Rogers said. “So to come back this year and be able to play them again, we wanted to beat them … get some revenge.”
But the Wolverines have put last year behind them and Rogers said that this game was “a turning point” of this season.
“It’s a defining moment for our team,” Berenson said.
“To be able to play in this environment and to play well and compete well and battle and find a way to win the game was good for all our young players, and obviously good for a young goalie.”