DETROIT – Notre Dame senior goalie David Brown has been a stalwart all season. His 1.58 goals against average is far better than any other goalie.
Michigan goalie Billy Sauer has been much maligned at times this season. It took a strong January for the sophomore to pull his save percentage above .900.
But in Saturday night’s CCHA final, it was Sauer who played like a superstar and Brown who flew under the radar.
Unfortunately for Sauer, a lone mistake among many brilliant saves made Notre Dame the 2-1 winner and conference champion and Brown the championship MVP.
It’s Notre Dame’s first ever CCHA-playoff title.
Spectacular stops were no solace for Sauer, who was visibly upset following the game.
“I thought I played fine, but obviously not good enough,” Sauer said.
Notre Dame’s game-winner resulted from Sauer’s lone mistake.
Sauer stopped Garrett Regan’s initial shot from just inside the blue line. But he couldn’t stick away the rebound and the puck slipped to Jason Paige who slid it through Sauer’s five-hole for a 2-1 lead with fewer than nine minutes remaining.
Despite losing, Sauer’s teammates were more willing than he to elaborate on his impressive showing.
“In the first couple periods he had really big saves,” senior alternate captain Jason Dest said. “They can turn the game around.”
During a Notre Dame second-period power play, Sauer made three impressive saves on point-blank shots. At the next stoppage, Sauer could be seen smiling in his crease. The puck streaks on his block ‘M’ acting as undeniable evidence of his masterful goaltending.
Though the onus for the game-winning goal fell on his shoulders, Sauer’s effort was beyond commendable. The sophomore made 35 saves one night after stopping a penalty shot in Michigan’s 5-2 semifinal win over Michigan State.
But it was the type of game Notre Dame (21-4-3 CCHA, 31-6-3 overall), a team that gave up just three goals in its last five games, has played all season, and Michigan (18-9-1, 26-13-1), the nation’s top offensive team, has rarely seen: A palpitating, low-scoring affair in which a single bounce marks the difference between a win and a loss.
“It was pretty tightly contested,” Michigan senior captain Matt Hunwick said. “It comes down to little mistakes, little plays, and they ended up making them at the end of the game.”
Said Michigan coach Red Berenson: “It’s a tough goal to give up. (Sauer) normally would handle that rebound easily. He gave us a chance in the game. He played hard and he played well. We just couldn’t get that goal back for him.”
Scoring the game-winner relieved some of Paige’s lingering pain from a broken nose suffered in Notre Dame’s semifinal win Friday afternoon. The senior had a large cut across the bridge of his nose and bruises around both eyes, but was all smiles in the post-game press conference.
“I feel a lot better than I look,” Paige said.
On a night when the bounces rarely went their way, the Wolverines benefited from a good carom to score the game’s first goal with just five seconds remaining in the first period.
Kevin Porter’s top-shelf tally came off one of the rare rebounds Brown allowed all game.
It was Porter’s third goal of the weekend.
But scoring just one goal clearly ate away at Michigan’s normally high-powered offense.
“We had chances, and we just didn’t bury them,” senior alternate captain T.J. Hensick said.