DETROIT — It was a trio that was meant to be.
In the first days of practices this season, seniors Jed Ortmeyer and John Shouneyia and freshman Jeff Tambellini were linesmates. But because of injuries to the two upperclassmen and the need to spread the wealth of three talented players to other lines, the three were never teamed together outside of practice.
Tonight the three couldn’t be separated as they dominated even-strengthed and powerplay opportunities to give Michigan a 5-to-3 win over Michigan Tech in the Great Lakes Invitational semifinal.
All three accounted for all but one of Michigan’s goals in one form or another.
“It felt great, we cracked right from the first period and kept rolling, and hopefully we can carry it through to tomorrow,” Tambellini said. “If we keep scoring goals and keep strong in our own end, hopefully (the coaches) will keep the line together. I think we have a little bit of everything on the line. Ort’s the complete player and Johnnie’s probably the best playmaker I’ve ever played with. We have a good mix of right-handed and left-handed shots and we complement each other well.”
Michigan appeared rusty from the three week layoff early on as it managed just one shot in the first six minutes. But after a penalty to Michigan Tech’s Greg Amadio at the 6:50 mark the Wolverines were able to finally able to put pressure on sophomore goalie Cam Ellsworth.
“Our powerplay hasn’t been very good this year and just to get it clicking is really huge for us,” Tambellini said. “I think we just kind of built off that and got our momentum off that. Of course we’re going to come out a little rusty because of the break, but it was good we got it going right away.”
Despite the slow opening minutes to the game, it was the Wolverines that first put a tally on the board when Ortmeyer notched his third goal of the season. The captain weaved a pass to Shouneyia at center ice, who then found Ortmeyer wide open along the right side. The senior forward then buried the game’s first goal with a shot just over Ellsworth’s glove.
Michigan’s inability to convert on two odd-man rushes later in the period left the door wide open for the Huskies to take advantage of their one good scoring chance late in the first period. Huskies’ freshman Chris Conner — who is the seventh leading scorer in the nation for freshmen — scored his sixth goal of the season with a rebound through the five-hole of Michigan goalie Al Montoya.
Michigan Tech seemed to gain momentum early in the second period when forward Colin Murphy deflected an airborne puck off the left shoulder of Montoya for the 2-1 lead.
But an elbow by Montoya to the chest of Murphy five minutes later changed the direction of the game as Michigan Tech was hurt for protecting its fallen teammate.
“(Montoya’s) pretty competitive and I think if he were a defenseman he’d be a pretty physical player,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
With the elbow, two penalties were enforced on the Huskies for retaliation while Montoya was the only Wolverine penalized, thus giving Michigan a powerplay. Forty seconds into the man advantage, freshman defenseman Danny Richmond put a shot high and wide left behind Ellsworth. Ortmeyer was behind the net for the rebound off the boards as he put the puck between Ellsworth’s right skate and the post for the equalizer.
“You just kind of mess around in practice,” Ortmeyer said of how different his goal was. “I wasn’t looking at it to begin with, but it was there.”
The Wolverines, who had been struggling with their powerplay before the winter break in two losses to Northern Michigan, then converted their second powerplay of the game in three chances when Tambellini scored from a low angled shot near the red line with five minutes left in the second period. Michigan finished 4-for-7 when a man or more up.
“Hopefully our powerplay will get better now that we’re getting our team back together,” Berenson said. “Jed just got back in the lineup against Northern, and he’s a key part of the powerplay. And of course Johnnie is too, but I think together they’re much better.”
The game was closed out when Shouneyia, who was in the left corner of the Huskies’ zone, found defenseman Brandon Rogers alone in the right faceoff circle. Rogers put the puck off Ellsworth’s left skate for the 4-2 lead and Michigan’s third powerplay goal of the night.
And just when the Huskies thought they had seen enough of Michigan’s powerplay, the Wolverines found themselves up two men on the ice with three minutes left in the game. Freshman Andrew Ebbett then converted from in front of Ellsworth thanks to a crisp behind-the-net pass from sophomore Milan Gajic at 17:35 of the final period.
The Huskies added a late goal with just 27 seconds left when Conner recorded his second of the night.
Michigan will play tomorrow night against Boston University in the GLI championship game.
SLUMPING STATE: With a weekend split three weeks ago against Ferris State — the CCHA’s top team — one might have thought that Michigan State could go into its winter break and the GLI with some momentum on its side.
Instead, the Spartans fell back into the rhythm of play that has resulted in its 7-8-1 start this season when they lost to Boston this afternoon in a 6-1 thrashing.
Michigan State will play the Huskies tomorrow in the consolation final.
WORLD JUNIORS: Scoring shorthanded is not a big surprise for Michigan forward Dwight Helminen, as he has already tallied a nation-best three goals when the Wolverines have been a man down. So it was no shock for the sophomore forward to continue his shorthanded production for the United States World Juniors team. Helminen had two shorthanded assists in the United States’ 3-1 win over Switzerland today.
The United States is now 1-1 in pool play with its next game Monday against Belarus.