Maybe the Western Michigan hockey team was simply hoping to sneak out of the first period early in both of its games against No. 3 Michigan this weekend.
In both games of the CCHA Quarterfinal series, the Broncos checked out just a few seconds too soon.
In Michigan’s 5-2 win Friday night and 6-1 victory Saturday against Western Michigan, two last-second goals by the Wolverines to close the first period crushed the Broncos’ CCHA Tournament upset bid. With the series win, Michigan advanced to the CCHA semifinals next weekend at Joe Louis Arena.
Saturday’s first period was one of the Wolverines’ most dominating of the season. Not only did Michigan (20-8-0-0 CCHA, 28-10-0 overall) outscore Western Michigan 3-0 in the first frame, they also shutout the Broncos (9-13-6-2, 14-20-7) in shots on goal. By the end of the period, Michigan had a 21-0 shot advantage.
And it was the 21st shot that really mattered.
With just three seconds left in the first period, freshman forward David Wohlberg controlled a loose puck on the left side of Western Michigan goaltender Riley Gill. Wohlberg then deflected the puck off Gill’s right skate and into the net to give Michigan the three-goal lead.
In the second period, after the Broncos scored to cut the lead to two, another lucky bounce broke Western Michigan’s back.
With 25 seconds to play in the second, sophomore Aaron Palushaj skated around the Bronco goal and tried to feed the puck to sophomore Louie Caporusso, who was stationed next to the crease. Palushaj’s pass deflected off the leg of a Western Michigan defender and slid into the net. After referees reviewed the play to see if the puck went off Caporusso’s foot, the officials upheld the goal.
“We were good, but we were lucky,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We got the bounces. We scored those last-minute goals – just about last-second goals – three of them this weekend. And those are backbreakers. The third goal and the fourth goal tonight are killers in the locker room, when you’ve just been scored on.”
Remarkably, things were eerily similar the night before.
Sophomore Carl Hagelin notched a shorthanded breakaway goal off a pass from sophomore Matt Rust that gave Michigan a 3-0 lead with just 1.5 seconds remaining in the first period.
“Rusty did all the work,” Hagelin said. “It was an easy goal for me. He beat his guy on our blueline and had a two-on-one. He made an awesome pass over to me and I missed the first shot but made the sure I got the rebound in.”
Besides scoring timely goals, the second line of Rust, Hagelin and Palushaj simply dominated the Broncos. All three scored two goals each in the series, and the trio combined for 14 points on the weekend.
Rust and Hagelin also anchored Michigan’s penalty kill, particularly on Friday. On two separate penalty kills in the first and second period, Hagelin and Rust teamed up not only to score the shorthanded goal, but forechecked deep in the Bronco zone to kill the clock and penalty. Their efforts earned the approval of the Yost crowd, which started chanting Hagelin’s name.
“I have never heard them cheer my name,” Hagelin said. “But I think when Rust and I are out there on the penalty kill, we try to get some energy going for the team and for the crowd.”
It will take several similar efforts from the all-sophomore line if the Wolverines want to win the CCHA Tournament this weekend. But the way Michigan shut down Western Michigan forward Patrick Galivan — who leads the CCHA in points — for just one goal on the weekend bodes well for upcoming games.
“They are a line that likes to be challenged,” Berenson said. “They shut down Western’s best line and then they outscored them. And that is a tribute to them.”