The look on Michigan coach Red Berenson’s face said it all.
The Wolverines’ normally stoic coach couldn’t help but smile and pump his fist after his team upset Colorado College 5-3 yesterday. With the win, Michigan earned a trip back to the Frozen Four. It’s the third consecutive time and ninth in the last 12 years that the Wolverines have reached that milestone.
Colorado College entered yesterday’s contest as the top-seeded team at the Midwest regional and favorite to advance. On top of that, the third-seeded Wolverines had to survive a 2-1 nailbiter with Maine on Saturday just to reach the Tigers. But Michigan found a way to persevere.
“We were playing as an underdog but we had our crowd with us, and we got the breaks that we needed,” Berenson said. “It was a great game for college hockey and certainly a great game for Michigan.”
Sophomore forward Eric Nystrom got the ball rolling for the Wolverines with a rebound goal just two minutes and 20 seconds into the first period to make it 1-0.
Colorado College answered back with two picture perfect powerplay goals midway through the period. The Tigers came into the game converting on an eye-popping 30.8 percent of their man-advantages – good for tops in the nation. And they showed why early on yesterday.
Colorado College freshman Brett Sterling notched the Tigers’ first goal, redirecting a pass from junior Peter Sejna around Michigan goalie Al Montoya. Sejna, the nation’s leading scorer with 80 points entering yesterday’s game, followed with a powerplay goal of his own two minutes later to give his team a lead.
Sophomore Milan Gajic answered for Michigan to nod the game at two seven minutes later. The Burnaby, British Columbia native kept his stick down in front of the net long enough to redirect a David Moss pass home. “I didn’t see it until the last second,” Gajic said. “I kind of fumbled on it, hit it and it seemed like it took about an hour and a half for the puck to go in the net. I only hit it from about a foot and half away. But after it went in, I was pretty happy.”
The teams traded goals in the second, leaving just 20 minutes to decide who would be headed to Buffalo.
Forward Jason Ryznar answered the call for Michigan with a score just 4:25 into the period. The sophomore skated around the Colorado College net and lobbed a perfectly-placed wristshot into the top-right corner of the net from his heels. “Me and Moss were working in the corner and the puck turned over,” Ryznar said. “Moss did a good job tying up his man. I just got a quick shot off and luckily it went in.”
Senior Mark Mink added an empty-net goal with 18 seconds left to secure the win. The Livonia native had two goals on the day, his first tallies in over four months.
Montoya made 21 saves yesterday and was named the regionals’ Most Outstanding Player. After allowing just one goal against a normally potent Maine team, it would have been easy for the Michigan freshman to lose focus headed into yesterday’s game. But the 18-year-old didn’t allow himself to get too caught up in Saturday’s performance. “I just told myself, ‘you played a great game last night, but if things don’t go the right way for you right off the bat, just stay focused and things will,'” Montoya said.
His coach was never concerned. “I’ve said all along that I’m not worried about our goaltending,” Berenson said. “And I’m still not.”