As the Michigan hockey team took a celebratory lap around the
ice following its 5-2 victory over Nebraska-Omaha last night, one
would have thought the team had just won the NCAA Tournament. In
reality, the Wolverines had merely survived round one of the CCHA
Tournament.

Ice Hockey
Dwight Helminen and the Wolverines narrowly avoided getting bowled over by Nebraska-Omaha. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)

The 5-2 victory, coupled with the Wolverines’ 2-0 win on
Friday, gave the Wolverines (18-8-2 CCHA, 25-12-2 overall) their
second and deciding win in the best-of-three series against the
Mavericks (5-20-4, 8-26-5). It also ended Nebraska-Omaha’s
season.

“Nebraska came up with a great series,” Michigan
coach Red Berenson said. “Sometimes when you’re a
so-called ‘underdog team,’ you play up to the other
team, and sometimes when you’re a favored team, you play down
to the other team. I think you saw a little bit of both.”

The Wolverines came out flat to start the game and found
themselves down 2-1 at the second intermission. After they came out
and struggled again in the first seven minutes of the third period,
it seemed as if Nebraska-Omaha was poised to punch a ticket to Joe
Louis Arena for the CCHA Super Six next weekend.

Then Michigan struck gold.

The Wolverines scored three goals in a span of 2:43 and left the
Mavericks in their collective dust, wondering what could have
been.

Junior forward Dwight Helminen started the barrage of goals at
the 6:55 mark of the third period. After Michigan freshman Mike
Brown ripped a shot and hit the post, the puck seemed to be lodged
under Nebraska-Omaha goalie Chris Holt’s arm. Helminen
charged at the net and pried the puck out of Holt’s grasp,
sending it into the back of the net.

Following the goal, Michigan kept the pressure on the Mavericks
and effectively held the puck in the Nebraska-Omaha zone.
Eventually, sophomore Andrew Ebbett got hold of the puck in front
of the net and ripped a shot straight into Holt’s chest. The
puck bounced off Holt and right back to junior defender Eric
Werner, who beat Holt with a quick, low shot.

“After that goal, it was kind of a relief,” Werner
said. “(But) we still had to keep on working hard.”

Werner’s goal sent most of the 5,873 fans in attendance
into a state of intense elation. It also prompted Nebraska-Omaha
coach Mike Kemp to take a timeout to stop the bleeding.

A little over a minute after the timeout, Nebraska-Omaha
defenseman Brett Davis picked up an interference penalty. The
mistake left the Wolverines — who struggled mightily on the
man-advantage for most of the weekend, going 2-for-22 — with
a chance to redeem themselves. They did exactly that.

With 10:22 showing on the clock, sophomore Jeff Tambellini
collected the puck just inside the blueline and fired through
traffic, beating Holt five-hole.

“I got lucky enough that the puck missed a couple of
sticks,” Tambellini said. “We had (freshman David
Rohlfs and junior Eric Nystrom) sitting in front. I’m sure
that (Holt) didn’t see a thing.”

Tambellini’s goal all but sealed the deal for Michigan.
Helminen added an empty-net goal with 1:29 remaining.

Berenson noted that the players felt that if they had lost the
game, and subsequently squandered the series, then their season
could have been over.

“Our team knew that this could be our last game,”
Berenson said. “Everything else is out of your control. We
didn’t make a big deal of that … (but) you don’t
want it to end that way.”

Instead of sitting back and letting the NCAA Selection Committee
determine its fate, Michigan will move on to the semifinal round of
the CCHA Tournament. The Wolverines will take the ice on Friday in
Detroit. Their opponent will be the lowest remaining seed after
Thursday’s quarterfinal games are complete.

If the Wolverines win the CCHA Tournament, they receive the
conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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