DETROIT – The score was 4-3. Ferris State was down by one. Less than 29 seconds left. Michigan failed to clear the neutral zone as Ferris State’s Derek Nesbitt knocked down an airborne puck and began to skate in uncontested from the blueline.
The third-largest crowd in CCHA Tournament history rose to its feet, as it would be Nesbitt versus Michigan goaltender Al Montoya for the CCHA Title. Then, as if being spit up by the ice, a yellow streak crashed into Nesbitt’s stick, knocking the puck away and bringing the Mason Cup back to Ann Arbor for another year.
Junior defenseman Andy Burnes was that yellow streak, and a ray of sunshine for Montoya and the Wolverines’ faithful.
“(Eric) Nystrom had the puck, and he backhanded it, and both Rogers and I thought it went down,” Burnes said. “We were looking down ahead of the ice – we’d thought he’d iced it. Then we saw the puck coming down on a breakaway, and obviously that’s the scariest thing ever, coming down with 20 seconds left. I just dove and tried to knock the puck away, and just not let him get a shot off.”
Montoya said of Burnes’ lunge: “You can’t teach something like that. It’s not skill, it’s just hard work and will. It’s just something that Andy Burnes thrives off of, and when you see a player like that do something that amazing, everyone on the bench feeds off it.”
For the 19 seconds after Burnes’ play, Michigan dictated control of the game, as sophomore Dwight Helminen added an empty-netter to send the Joe Louis Arena crowd into a frenzy.
After that, all Michigan could do was celebrate its second straight – sixth overall – CCHA Tournament Championship.
“It was just a season … I was letting it all out,” said a near speechless Montoya, when trying to describe his emotion after Helminen’s goal. “It was just unbelievable. I can’t describe the feeling. I was just letting it all out. Everything up to now didn’t mean anything. We came out and we were the better team tonight.”
For Montoya, tonight’s game – and the weekend as a whole – was a statement that the freshman has been waiting to make. On Friday he earned a shutout against a good Ohio State team, and Saturday he shut down the league’s top scorer in Chris Kunitz, holding him to just one powerplay goal. Stopping Kunitz was something on Montoya’s mind since their last meeting over a month ago when Kunitz scored four goals in two games. Kunitz also commented after Ferris State’s win over Michigan on Feb. 1 that Montoya had “let his team down” and that he let up soft goals.
Montoya said after Saturday’s game that for as much talking as Kunitz had done after the February game, all he could say during the post-game handshakes was “good job.”
This was a game where Michigan’s defense shined, holding the Bulldogs’ top line of Kunitz, Nesbitt and Jeff Legue to only one goal on just seven shots. In the previous two meetings between Michigan and Ferris State, that trio produced five goals on 20 shots.
The only time they put the puck in the net has at the 10:47 mark of the first period, when Legue passed from the left corner to Kunitz, who was waiting at the point, for a top-shelf powerplay goal.
“Our powerplay throughout the year has been adequate and not great – the strength of our team is five-on-five,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. He also noted that Michigan’s quickness was a factor in scoring just one even-strength goal – though it came just one second after a powerplay expired. He also said how moving Kunitz to the point caught many teams by surprise, as it did Michigan when the Wolverines left him alone for his tally.
Kunitz’s goal tied the game at one. Michigan freshman Jeff Tambellini had scored an even-strength goal six minutes earlier.
The Wolverines came out on fire in the second period, and led by captain Jed Ortmeyer, built up a lead they would not relinquish. Ortmeyer scored his first goal of the night just over a minute into the period when senior John Shouneyia passed to him as he was streaking down the left side of the ice. The captain one-timed it past Ferris State goaltender Mike Brown to give Michigan a 2-1 lead.
“Ort was flying up the wing … he got three strides ahead of me, and the defender kind of keyed towards me so I gave it up to (Ortmeyer) for a one-timer,” Shouneyia said.
Ortmeyer scored again 14 minutes later when, on the powerplay, he saw a shot from Tambellini going just wide left of Brown. Ortmeyer positioned himself perfectly to receive the rebound off the back boards and put it between Brown’s right leg and the post.
In the opening minutes of the third period, Ferris State answered back when junior defenseman Simon Mangos scored a powerplay goal with Michigan defender Nick Martens in his face.
Michigan responded 5:27 into the period when freshman Andrew Ebbett won a faceoff in Ferris State territory. The faceoff win went directly to sophomore Michael Woodford, who shot it through traffic to beat Brown glove-side. Before Helminen’s empty netter, Ferris State’s Matt York scored when Montoya couldn’t control a rebound off him.
CONSOLATION GAME, NORTHERN MICHIGAN 4, OHIO STATE 1: It was a game where third-place Ohio State was supposed to solidify its bid into the NCAA Tournament. Instead, Northern Michigan upgraded itself from a darkhorse to “bubble” team when it defeated the Buckeyes Saturday afternoon 4-1 in the consolation game.
Ohio State got on the board eight minutes into the game when Hobey Baker candidate R.J. Umberger scored a powerplay goal. The rest of the game, though, belonged to the officials – who called 26 penalties in the game – and Northern Michigan goalie Craig Kowalski, who recorded 31 saves on the afternoon (including stoning Umberger on a shorthanded breakaway).
“It’s amazing that someone at that weight can play that well three days in a row,” said Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle, who was referring to Kowalski’s high weight for being a goaltender. “In all seriousness … he’s the key to our hockey team. We play five freshmen on defense … and he’s had to cover up a lot of errors for young guys.”
The Buckeyes’ loss still didn’t hurt their NCAA chances as they will face Boston College in the first round of the East region.