Michigan’s season is over as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish stunned the Wolverines in overtime by a score of 5-4 to advance to the national championship game. From the very start things were in ND’s favor, and although they ended up blowing a couple of leads, in the end they proved to be the team that wanted to win more.
Going into this game, Michigan had to have many things going their way if they were to win. Perhaps the most important, though, was Billy Sauer. Despite having an amazing season, we all still remember his performance in the NCAA Tournament last year that sent Michigan home after only one game. Unfortunately, that Billy Sauer showed up in Denver Thursday night, digging Michigan a very large hole after only one period.
Early on in the first period, Sauer got beat on two fairly weak goals. The first one seemed like a fluke, but the second one showed that Sauer simply didn’t bring his “A” game. The defense didn’t do him any favors as they seemed overmatched early on as well, but the fault definitely goes to Sauer for those first two goals.
Once the game started to get settled in, Michigan was looking to get on the scoreboard before things really got out of hand. After all, in Michigan’s first win over Notre Dame this season, they fell behind by 2 goals quickly before fighting back to win 3-2. Would this game provide a similar result? Well, not so much. Notre Dame scored a shorthanded goal as the first period was coming to a close to go on top 3-0.
A stunned Michigan team retook the ice to get the second period started, and shockingly Billy Sauer wasn’t in net. Instead, freshman Bryan Hogan set up shop in the Michigan goal as Sauer’s poor play got him benched. I don’t know what it is about Sauer, but in the NCAA Tournament he seems like he is trying to be the Todd Jones of goalies. One game he is lights out, and then in the next he looks clueless.
The goalie change did work in Michigan’s favor as it seemed to wake up the rest of the team. I wish my screaming at the TV would’ve done so after the first, second, and third goals, but it took this surprising move to pump some life into the team. Although the deficit was 3 goals, there were still 40 minutes of hockey to be played, and as Michigan would prove, goals can be scored quickly.
Nearly 9 minutes into the second period, Michigan finally got on the board when Chad Kolarik put a shot by Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce to cut the lead down to 2 goals. Riding off of that wave of momentum, Matt Rust scored another Michigan goal only 15 seconds later, making things very interesting. In only 15 seconds, Michigan went from being down and out to right back in the game, and they weren’t done just yet.
Just over 2 minutes of the third period elapsed before the score became tied at 3-3. While on the power play, Chad Kolarik knocked the puck in for the Wolverines from behind the net to even the score. Notre Dame fans looked just as shocked as Michigan fans were after the first period. Despite trailing 3-0 at one point and having an inexperienced goalie playing, Michigan fought back to tie the game.
As nice as the comeback was, Michigan fell behind again 9 or so minutes later when the Wolverines’ defense totally collapsed. Notre Dame’s Kevin Deeth simply skated by defenders with ease and put the puck past Bryan Hogan to give the Fighting Irish a 1-goal lead. The pressure was on again.
3 or so minutes after ND’s latest goal, Michigan got lucky and somehow scored from a very tough angle. The puck was dumped into ND’s zone and bounced off the boards. Michigan’s Carl Hagelin was moving down the ice quickly and shot the puck at the net from what looked to be an angle of 90 degrees. Despite Jordan Pearce hugging the goalpost, the puck snuck past him and into the net to even things up once again. I still don’t know how Hagelin scored that goal, but thankfully he did to send the game to overtime.
As the puck was about to drop to begin overtime, I thought to myself that I probably won’t have to wait very long for this game to be done. I felt that way because Michigan’s Bryan Hogan just didn’t have the experience in a situation like this, and although he was playing better than Billy Sauer did, my confidence in a freshman goalie wasn’t exactly sky high. On the flipside, Notre Dame’s Jordan Pearce was really having trouble keeping the puck out of the net. It’s not like they were bad goals, but nonetheless, the puck was going in.
My initial thoughts turned about to be correct as Notre Dame ended the game just under 6 minutes into the overtime period. Calle Ridderwall scored the game-winner on what was a weak goal in my opinion, but I can’t really fault Hogan very much as he had pathetic defense around him. Notre Dame was on the attack for almost all of the overtime, and in reality, Michigan was lucky to have survived that long after a few great scoring chances the Fighting Irish had.
The final score in Denver was 5-4, and now we all unfortunately have to think about what could’ve been rather than about Michigan possibly winning a national title on Saturday. There is a lot of blame to go around for this loss, and no, it’s not all Billy Sauer’s fault. He played a big role in Michigan losing by giving up a couple of easy goals, but the intensity of the entire team seemed to be nonexistent for the first 20 minutes of this game. From the instant the puck dropped to start play, Notre Dame seemed hungrier, like they wanted it more. I don’t know if this was a result of being overconfident or simply looking ahead to Saturday, but whatever it was, Michigan just didn’t seem ready for a game.
It will be hard to look past this loss as it will likely overshadow this team’s great season, but let’s not forget that Kevin Porter will probably win the Hobey Baker Award later today. I imagine it will be bittersweet for him considering that’s the only hardware he now has a shot at taking home to Ann Arbor, but I guess it’s better than nothing. Regardless, Porter and fellow senior Chad Kolarik have to be thanked for playing such great hockey this past year. They both will be missed next season. Although this young team will return many of its important players, filling the skates of Porter and Kolarik is no easy task.
I know the end result sucked, especially since Notre Dame now advances to the national title game, but I would like to thank the hockey team for a great season. We got to see a GLI title for the first time in a long time, and Michigan won the CCHA regular season and tournament titles. Not winning a national championship certainly is disappointing, but at least they did some great things this past season.