Down 2-1 early in the second period of Friday night’s game, things were looking frightingly similar for the Wolverines.
Shaping up to be a repeat of last year’s first CCHA home series, when Northern Michigan swept Michigan, the Wolverines found themselves down to an upstart team (Northern Michigan) and playing without a full lineup.
The Wildcats swept that series, but this time around the Wolverines got a big boost from Al Montoya. Their freshman goaltender held strong after giving up early goals on both nights. These performances kept the Wolverines in the contest and gave them a chance to light up the scoreboard in the third period.
“From the start I’ve said I wasn’t worried about our goalkeeping,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And Al hasn’t given me anything to worry about. Like any goalie, he is going to give up some goals he doesn’t like. But I like the kid, I like the way he’s playing, and he’s definitely got the team’s confidence.”
In Friday’s first period, Montoya was beat cold when Alaska-Fairbanks center Ryan Campbell got the puck on a breakaway and stuck it past Montoya’s left pad. And then five minutes into second period, Nanooks’ right winger Tom Herman hit the top shelf of the net when he got a feed right in front of the net from behind.
But when the Wolverines were down a goal in the second period, Montoya held strong. The Nanooks unleashed their best offensive pressure of the weekend when they fired 13 shots on net that period.
“He was a difference,” Michigan goalies coach Stan Matwijiw said. “If he doesn’t come up with a couple big saves, it’s a different hockey game.”
After the Wolverines went into Friday’s second intermission tied at two, Montoya took advantage of his superior puckhandling skills and started the play that turned the tide of the game. While both teams were on a line change, Montoya found Dwight Helminen all alone on the right side of the blue line. Montoya then made a great pass as Helminen flew down the ice to break the tie.
“I like to catch the teams off the line change,” Montoya said. “Usually our team notices when I chip the puck and they know they have a lane. So that’s all I did. I gave (Helminen) a little nudge and he knew right away.”
In Saturday’s game Montoya gave up an early goal off a rebound, but then put together some more big saves allowing the Wolverines again to turn things around in the third period.
“I think he was a little nervous, but then the kid’s a hell of a goaltender,” sophomore Michael Woodford said. “He might let in a goal here or there, but we have full confidence back there that when the third period comes around he’ll make some big saves.”
Considering this weekend was the first time Montoya was called upon to make some big saves, everyone was pleased with the development of the goalie who could have been a senior at Ann Arbor Huron High School this year.
“The thing that’s stood out the most to me is that every game he’s getting better at everything,” Matwijiw said. “The little things that I’m seeing up in the stands and the corrections that after a game I sit down and I talk to him, he’s made the adjustment. He’s gotten better every game by doing the little things well, and that’s what’s going to make him a great goalie.”