DETROIT – The buzzer had sounded. The game was over. But Michigan goalie Al Montoya was still wrapped up in the emotions of the playoffs.

On Friday night, the 18-year-old freshman burst out of the crease toward the Ohio State player who fired a wrist shot at him after the third-period clock had run out. Following a short scuffle, the Wolverines gathered Montoya, and the freshman skated away – content with a shutout win and a trip to the CCHA Championship Game.

Montoya is young, but he has never been afraid to stand up for himself. On the ice this weekend, he played like he was oblivious to the gravity of the situation. And he led his team to a CCHA Tournament title.

“Obviously, he has a lot of pressure on him,” associate captain Andy Burnes said. “Everybody says how goaltending will win you (playoff games), and goaltending’s the most important part of playoffs. I think for a freshman goaltender, who’s the youngest player in college hockey, Al’s handled that pressure great. He’s playing great hockey, and he’s giving us a chance every night.”

Montoya made 31 saves Friday night, one with his back on the goalline. With five minutes to go in the second period, the freshman had just denied another Buckeyes powerplay. Ohio State still controlled the puck in the Wolverines zone and fired a slapshot at the net.

“I didn’t really see the puck from the point, and I knew I had to stay tight,” Montoya said. “The puck hit my stick, (and the) rebound went right in front.”

With sticks flying, Montoya was forced to fall backward, and he, along with teammate Michael Woodford, swatted it out of trouble.

Saturday, he shutdown the CCHA’s top offensive team about as well as anyone probably could, making 17 saves en route to a 5-3 win.

“I (told) him this week, ‘You know the real playoffs start this week,'” coach Red Berenson said. “And he had the right response. He said, ‘I can’t wait.’ And he was dead on.”

Montoya’s wins this weekend also came against the two top goalies in the CCHA in terms of goals-against average – Mike Betz of Ohio State and Mike Brown of Ferris State.

“After the awards banquet (on Wednesday), you know, I saw the highlight videos, I saw the awards handed out, and I was like ‘I want to go out there and prove something,'” Montoya said. “‘These guys obviously don’t think I’m one of the top (goalies) in the league.’ So I went out there, and I feel like I (made) a statement.”

Breaking out: Sophomore forward Dwight Helminen had his coach nervous.

“When I looked at our stat (sheet) that said that he had not scored a goal at Joe Louis in the past, I think he played six games here, I was a little worried about him before the game,” Berenson said with a smile after Friday’s game.

Michigan’s coach had just watched Helminen score all three of the Wolverines’ goals against Ohio State, including a perfectly placed wristshot into the top right-hand corner of the Buckeyes’ net for his fourth shorthanded tally of the season.

“It’s a great feeling,” Helminen said after that game. “You don’t really expect that going into a game. For it to go your way like that, it’s a great feeling.”

His eventual game-winning goal was a backhand shot through the legs of Ohio State goalie Mike Betz. He added his second score of the game two minutes later on a carom off of the boards behind the net.

On Saturday, the sophomore added the empty-net goal with five seconds left in the game that clinched the Wolverines’ title.

“In the past, I’ve had chances and things haven’t been going in,” said Helminen, who has now scored six goals in his last four games. “I’ve gotten a few bounces here and there, and the floodgates have opened.”

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