DETROIT – Michigan coach Red Berenson told Michael Woodford he needed him to play like Jed Ortmeyer Saturday.
What did that mean? It meant elevating his game in the playoffs. It meant finding a way to score. It meant being there when his team needed a spark. And it meant lifting a trophy when it was all over.
Ortmeyer, the Wolverines’ captain, did all those things against Ferris State. But just as importantly, Woodford did as well.
Ortmeyer scored twice and showed why he was named the CCHA’s Best Defensive Forward. He also walked away with CCHA Tournament Most Valuable Player honors. His first goal broke a 1-1 tie in the second period, giving Michigan the momentum it needed to stay on top for good. And when Ferris State’s Chris Kunitz decked Dwight Helminen after Helminen scored an empty-netter to ensure Michigan’s victory, Ortmeyer was the first guy to rush to Helminen’s defense.
But Ortmeyer’s performance alone wouldn’t have been enough to give Michigan its sixth CCHA Tournament title in 10 years. Michigan needed guys like Woodford to step up just as Ortmeyer did.
Woodford hadn’t found the net in almost two months, and Berenson said, “If you would have told me he would score the winning goal, I probably would have questioned you.”
Being Michael Woodford wasn’t working all that well, so the sophomore forward took Berenson’s advice and gave being Jed Ortmeyer a try. With Ferris State within one goal, and threatening to send the Wolverines into one of those third-period collapses that have been all too familiar with, Woodford broke his goal drought and gave Michigan a cushion big enough to hold off the Bulldogs’ supercharged offense. When Ferris State’s Matt York scored later in the period, Woodford’s goal became the difference.
“If your top guys are playing well, then everybody plays well,” Berenson said. “The seniors set the tone, and I think the young players responded.”
The whole team responded to Ortmeyer and the rest of the leaders, playing much different games than when Michigan faced Ferris State and Ohio State in the regular season. The last time the Wolverines played the Bulldogs (Feb. 1 in Big Rapids), Ferris State blitzed Michigan for four goals before the Wolverines had finished lacing their skates. This time, Michigan came ready to play from the start, and it played lockdown team defense, holding Hobey Baker candidate and CCHA leading-scorer Kunitz to just two shots on goal.
On Friday, Michigan shut down another prolific scorer, Ohio State’s R.J. Umberger. In their regular season meeting, the teams tied in two back-and-forth games. But this time Michigan’s defense, led by freshman goaltender Al Montoya, blanked the Buckeyes..
To win championships, teams can’t afford to have lapses like Michigan did against Ferris State the first time, or third-period meltdowns the way it did against Ohio State in Columbus. The Wolverines seemed to have figured that out and, led by Ortmeyer, brought out their best stuff when a title was on the line.
The captain, who has been known to hold himself accountable for Michigan losses, was quick to humbly deflect credit for the team’s play this weekend. He waved over the rest of the seniors (defensemen Mike Roemensky, J.J. Swistak, and forwards John Shouneyia and Mark Mink) to accept the CCHA Tournament Championship banner with him, and gave them props for their toughness and leadership afterwards.
“It’s a team effort,” said Ortmeyer after lifting the Mason Cup for the second straight year. “We have a lot of leaders on this team that don’t get enough credit, starting with our senior class.”
It was well deserved praise, as all five seniors played well, but Ortmeyer wears the C, and it starts with him. The player who Berenson has called the best captain he has ever coached is the undisputed leader of this team, and if you don’t believe that, just ask any of his teammates about him. Every player who brings up Ortmeyer’s name usually follows it immediately with words of admiration and respect, and it is obvious how much they look up to him.
With Michigan’s youth, Ortmeyer’s guidance has been vital all season. Although he is not Michigan’s scoring leader, he has been its vocal leader, and then backed that up with his stellar all-around play and total effort.
Ortmeyer raised his game to another level this weekend, and the rest of the team climbed up there after him.
“That’s the sign of a great captain – when he plays his best game in the biggest game,” junior Andy Burnes said. “And I think he did that tonight. He’s the leader by example. He’s the leader vocally. That’s why he’s the captain of Michigan.”
Berenson showed how much Ortmeyer means to the team and what kind of example the senior sets when he told Woodford, “I want you to be like Jed Ortmeyer. You’ve got to go out and play like Jed Ortmeyer.”
But perhaps the biggest tribute to the captain’s leadership was that Woodford, and the rest of the Wolverines, actually did it.
Courtney Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.