DETROIT — After throwing away a fourth opportunity to
clinch the CCHA regular-season title, there was still one way for
the Wolverines to come out with the trophy. All they needed was a
little help from their good pals: The Ohio State Buckeyes.

When Michigan returned to the Joe Louis Arena lockerroom after
its 1-0 loss to the Spartans on Saturday, the Wolverines’
focus gravitated towards Columbus, where the Buckeyes were hosting
Miami (Ohio). Trailing the Wolverines by just one point in the CCHA
standings, the RedHawks allowed Ohio State to score with 1:11 left
in the game and lost, 5-4.

“For a brief period, we were Ohio State fans,”
senior captain Andy Burnes joked. “That’s unheard of,
but that’s the way it had to be.”

While the last four games (the Wolverines went 0-3-1) have
demonstrated that Michigan has a lot of work to do, the fact that
they are conference champs is still something they are proud
of.

“Obviously we would have liked to have won the game, but
we’ve earned (the championship),” Michigan associate
coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s been a long year.
We’ve done a lot of good things over the year, and I think
the kids have really done a nice job and earned it.”

After a slow first period Saturday, Michigan got a pair of
chances all alone in front of the Spartans’ goaltender
Dominic Vicari, but both Jason Ryznar and Michael Woodford came up
empty.

Ryznar tried to make one too many moves with the puck and had no
angle to fire a shot, while Woodford didn’t even manage to
fire one.

“It’s amazing,” Michigan coach Red Berenson
said. “(Woodford) has this breakaway and he never even
touches the puck … The puck bounced right up over his stick
as he went to shoot. It wasn’t like he did something and lost
it. He never touched the puck and it went off his stick. Either the
ice was rough or the puck was not sitting the way it should
have.”

The Spartans’ goal that gave them the season-series with
Michigan (2-1-1) came with just over five minutes left in the game.
After trying a wraparound, junior Mike Lalonde pounced on a loose
puck and backhanded it into the air. It took Michigan goaltender Al
Montoya by surprise, and he was unable to reach out with his right
arm in time.

Michigan State (17-9-2 CCHA, 21-15-2 overall), fighting for an
NCAA Tournament spot, hopes the win can generate confidence.

“We’ve had so many tough losses this year;
it’s been a frustrating year,” Michigan State coach
Rick Comley said. “But when you win a tough game here, 1-0,
that does a lot for your psyche.”

Even Berenson looked at the game in a positive light.

“(Saturday’s) game was actually a step in the right
direction,” Berenson said. “We played hard and we
played well and we did a lot of good things. I think our team
senses that that’s the kind of game we’re going to be
in from here on. Do we have to play better? Absolutely. But we
played a good team and we lost on a fluky goal-against. It’s
simple as that.”

The Wolverines’ (18-8-2, 23-11-2) 4-4 tie with the
Spartans on Friday earned Michigan just one point in its last two
weekends of the regular season. And the Wolverines were fortunate
to even come away with that.

After allowing three straight goals and seeing a 3-1 lead
evaporate into a 4-3 deficit, it appeared as though the Wolverines
had lost any chance of evening the score when freshman Mike Brown
was called for a penalty away from the puck with just 2:37 left in
the third period.

When the Wolverines finally got the puck in the Michigan State
zone for a faceoff, Ryznar pounced on a loose puck right in front
of the net. He flipped the puck over Vicari and into the net.

“The scouting report said (Vicari) was going down on
everything near the net,” Ryznar said. “I thought
‘Just fire it top shelf.’ ”

In overtime, Michigan State forward Lee Falardeau batted in the
puck for a goal, but his stick was too high in the air and the goal
was negated.

The Wolverines dodged a major bullet when Michigan State had a
3-on-1, but the Spartans’ spacing was poor and they were
unable to get a shot off.

“We’re a faceoff away from sharing that
championship, to be honest,” Comley said.

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