ALBANY, N.Y. – Michigan goalie Billy Sauer was bored.

In a span over the first two periods against Niagara Friday, the junior didn’t see a shot for more than 22 minutes – a stark difference from the 26 shots Sauer faced (and seven goals he surrendered) in last year’s opening round of the NCAA tournament against North Dakota.

“I was trying to not snooze off for a while there,” Sauer said. “I really just tried to stay in it, be vocal and skate around to just keep myself into it. Those games are tough when you’re not seeing a lot of shots.”

But it’s difficult to complain about the lack of shots, because it was a reflection of Michigan’s stellar defensive play. The Wolverines kept the Purple Eagles to seven or fewer shots each period, and Clarkson had no more than 10 in any stanza of Saturday’s East Regional Final.

Michigan wore down both teams’ offenses, blocking 16 shots on the weekend and closing gaps quicker than it had all year. Solid scoring chances came few and far between for the opponents.

“We had a number of odd-man rushes where usually we’ll throw it on net, maybe have a center drive, maybe get a rebound chance, but there was nothing tonight,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said Friday. “Their gaps were unbelievable . taking away a lot of lanes we’re used to having.”

Composed of five underclassmen and one junior, Michigan’s defensive unit has surprised many this year, with junior alternate captain Mark Mitera emerging as one of the nation’s best defensemen during the first half of the season. The three first-year starters have a combined plus-39 plus-minus rating. And neither Scooter Vaughan’s injuries – forcing sophomore walk-on Eric Elmblad to play his first collegiate games – nor Kevin Quick’s dismissal from the team have slowed the unit.

The blueliners have simply been in the background of Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik’s prolific offense and Sauer’s drastic turnaround this year.

But before the weekend’s first game, Michigan coach Red Berenson singled them out, telling them it “was their chance to shine.” And the Purple Eagles and Golden Knights were blinded.

“It’s hard to get things going, get chances on them,” Niagara forward Matt Caruana said. “They’re all quick, they’re all strong, they’re all fast. We tried our best to get pucks on the net, but you need to give credit to them.

“Every time we crossed the line, I felt like they were stepping right up at us and not giving us any grade-A opportunities.”

The defensive effort wasn’t limited to just the defensemen, either. Forwards were coming back strong and backchecking well, something the Wolverines have struggled with at points this season.

“Our backcheck was huge (Friday), and if our forwards are coming back, they can step up and create turnovers for us,” Kolarik said.

And once Michigan clinched its first Frozen Four appearance in five years, Clarkson forward Nick Dodge simply acknowledged the Wolverines’ talent.

“They’re the best defense that we’ve faced this year.”

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