BUFFALO, N.Y. – It seemed like the Michigan hockey team was finally going to take that next step. After coming out and dominating the first period, developing a 2-0 second-period lead, the Wolverines had a berth in the NCAA national title game in their grasp.
But for the third straight year, it wasn’t meant to be.
Minnesota goals late in the second period and early in the third gave freshman Thomas Vanek a chance to score in overtime and defeat the Wolverines to advance to its second straight title game.
At 8:55 in overtime, Vanek got away from junior alternate captain Andy Burnes behind the net before he received the puck and put it between goaltender Al Montoya’s right shoulder and the post.
The defeat was the seventh national semifinal loss in nine NCAA Frozen Four appearances for the Wolverines in the past 12 years.
“We really came in here feeling like we had a chance to win it,” Burnes said.
“We had the chemistry all year long and the leadership. I still feel like we should have won that game.”
Michigan got the vast majority of the scoring chances in the first period, outshooting Minnesota 15-5 and scoring at 9:33 when freshman Andrew Ebbett passed the puck off the draw to fellow freshman Brandon Kaleniecki, who wristed the puck past Minnesota goaltender Travis Weber’s glove. But the Wolverines mustered just one goal in the period in part to some spectacular saves by Weber.
“We really needed to score more than one goal in the first period,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We had them on their heels, and we needed to make those chances count because you knew that it was not going to be a one-sided game.”
Senior two-year captain Jed Ortmeyer received a pass from freshman Jeff Tambellini right in front and put the puck through Weber’s legs, putting the Wolverines up two. But the Golden Gophers controlled much of the play in the second period and cut into the lead three minutes after Ortmeyer’s goal. Montoya had stopped two initial shots, but the puck trickled past him toward the net, allowing forward Troy Riddle to come by the net and poke it just past the goalline.
Minnesota then tied the game 1:35 into the third period when freshman Gino Guyer received a pass in the middle of the zone from sophomore Barry Tallackson and one-timed it through Montoya’s legs.
Michigan had numerous chances to take the lead in overtime, headlined by when sophomore Jason Ryznar got the puck with the entire net wide open. But Minnesota defender Paul Martin dove in front of Ryznar to save the shot and the game with his stick.
The loss ends the career of six Michigan seniors, including Ortmeyer and alternate captain John Shouneyia, who have stayed with the program while two classmates left early for the professional ranks the past two summers.
“When you lose, it’s players like Jed Ortmeyer (who) don’t get another chance at something like this,” Berenson said. “They’ve given so much to the team and to the program, and they don’t get another chance.”