DETROIT — A single mistake soured Michigan goaltender Noah Ruden’s memories of the Great Lakes Invitational.
Despite the 64 saves he made over two games to keep the Wolverines in contention for the tournament title, a mental error in overtime during the championship game on Dec. 30 allowed Michigan State (5-7-0 CCHA, 10-9-1 overall) to defeat No. 3 Michigan (11-1-0 CCHA, 14-5-1 overall) 2-1.
As the puck wrapped around the end boards, Ruden left his net to control it while Michigan defender Reilly Olson and Michigan State forward Drew Miller approached. Ruden settled the puck for Olson and headed back around his net. As Olson headed for the corner in an attempt to clear, Miller wrestled the puck from him and sent it to Spartans’ forward Colton Fretter. Fretter hammered the puck from the right circle into a nearly empty net at 9:27 of overtime.
“There was a little skirmish behind the net, and (Miller) was working hard down there, and it just popped off of a skate,” Fretter said. “Ruden was behind the net still, and it came right to me, and I just threw it in the open net.”
A mixup between Ruden and Olson made for a sloppy handover, giving Miller the chance to make a play.
“There was minimal communication,” Ruden said. “I didn’t tell him what I wanted to do, and he didn’t tell me what he wanted me to do with it. When we got back there, I was going to just leave it for him there and settle it down. I think we just got tied up.”
Even before the handoff, Ruden — in a hurry to get the puck out of the Michigan zone — came around the wrong side of his goal.
“It was a mental error,” Ruden said. “I went the wrong way when I went behind the net, and I was too late getting back in. I am supposed to follow the play. If I follow the play — which we’re taught to do — even if (the puck) is coughed up, I am there in net.”
The only other goal the Spartans managed to slip past Ruden came in the first period when Miller took the puck behind Michigan’s net and slid it to Michigan State forward and tournament Most Valuable Player Jim Slater. Slater lifted the puck over Ruden’s extended leg. The puck hit Ruden’s pad, bounced to the far post and slid in before Michigan defender Tim Cook could fish it out.
Despite the two goals, Michigan coach Red Berenson was satisfied with Ruden’s play. With the loss of starter Al Montoya to the World Junior Championships, Berenson relied on Ruden to give his team the chance to win its first Great Lakes Invitational Championship since 1996.
“(Ruden) definitely showed us that he can play,” Berenson said. “ That was a good weekend for Noah, even though he was a big part of screwing up that last goal, that overtime goal. That was a gift goal. He made some big saves and he gave us a chance all weekend. He played solid hockey.”
Michigan’s lone goal in the championship game tied the game at one early in the third period. Junior Brandon Kaleniecki came from behind the Michigan State net and, while lying on the ice, poked the puck past Spartans’ goaltender Dominic Vicari. After the intial shot was stopped, Kaleniecki prevented Vicari from covering the puck and knocked in.
Fretter’s overtime goal ended the Wolverines’ dream of bringing the trophy back to Ann Arbor, but Berenson was pleased with the way his team performed despite the absence of Montoya and several other stars that were representing the United States in the World Junior Championships.
“When you win or lose in overtime, it kind of takes away from how you played the game,” Berenson said. “I really liked how our team dug down and played hard and gave ourselves a chance. It was a good game for Michigan. Although we didn’t score the goal in overtime, I was proud of our team.
Michigan earned the right to play in the championship game by defeating Michigan Tech (1-13-0 WCHA, 1-16-1 overall) 4-2 a night earlier. Michigan scored in the first period when Kaleniecki fielded a pass from defenseman Brandon Rogers. The Huskies evened the score midway through the second, but three Michigan goals by Charlie Henderson, Jason Ryznar and David Moss gave the Wolverines a lead they would not surrender.