COLUMBUS – It had all the makings of a Saturday night disaster for the Michigan hockey team. After the Wolverines surrendered a two-goal lead to bring the game into overtime, Hobey Baker Award candidate and Ohio State center R.J. Umberger had exactly what he wanted. The junior received a pass right in front of the net as time was running out, a situation he practices every Thursday before a game that he said he scores seven out of 10 times.
But Saturday’s shot was one of the three he didn’t.
Umberger moved to his left on Michigan goaltender Al Montoya, but the freshman made a save with his right pad to salvage a 3-3 tie.
With the second tie between the two teams on consecutive nights, the Wolverines (18-7-3 CCHA, 24-9-3 overall) finished the season in second place in the CCHA, six points behind first-time champion Ferris State. Michigan will begin its postseason run with a best-of-three CCHA first round playoff series against Bowling Green next weekend at Yost Ice Arena.
Throughout the second period Saturday, it looked as if the Wolverines were going to carry momentum into the series with Bowling Green by building a 3-1 lead. As Michigan was finishing off its second consecutive penalty kill, David Moss intercepted a pass, took the puck the length of the ice and put it inside the right post, giving the Wolverines the lead. A minute and a half later, on the powerplay, Brandon Kaleniecki came down the right side and put a rebound just under the diving Ohio State goaltender Mike Betz.
But the Buckeye coaching staff learned during the second intermission that they needed at least a tie to be the third seed in the CCHA Tournament. Despite being swept by the Buckeyes, Michigan State had defeated Western Michigan, and the Spartans held the tiebreaker for having more league wins.
“We knew that Michigan State had already won, and what we wanted to do is establish momentum going into the playoffs,” Markell said.
Ohio State then dominated the third period, creating the vast majority of the scoring chances and outshooting Michigan 13-7. The Value City Arena season-high crowd of 13,628 got back into the contest when forward Paul Caponigri skated down the goalline and beat Montoya to his left, cutting the lead in half.
It looked like the Buckeyes had tied the contest when a pass from behind the net went off Umberger and just inside the left post. This drove the Buckeye fans into a frenzy, and Montoya into a tirade about how the puck went off Umberger’s skate. After discussion, the officials called off the goal.
“It hit my foot, and I didn’t even realize it,” Umberger said. “There was no way I could have directed it in. It’s just frustrating.”
But Michigan’s lead didn’t last much longer, as an Umberger slapshot deflected right in front of forward Daymen Bencharski, who wristed the puck above Montoya to tie the game. The Buckeyes then had numerous chances, but Montoya was able to hold strong.
“Tonight he was as good of a player as there was on the ice,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
After Andrew Ebbett tied Friday’s game with one second remaining and after Saturday’s Buckeye comeback, Michigan and Ohio State could be set for a classic duel in the semifinals of the CCHA Tournament in two weeks. Barring any upsets – which tend to happen – the two will meet a week from Friday with more at stake. If that game comes to fruition and is as evenly played as this weekend was, it’s going to be a wild ride.
“It was a whole weekend of breaks, missed opportunities, and taking advantage of opportunities,” Berenson said. “Neither of these teams are going to lie down.”