By Greg Garno -
ANN ARBOR — The Michigan hockey team’s Senior Night at Yost Ice Arena wasn’t highlighted by an inspired performance from one of its five veterans.
It was from a freshman.
Goaltender Steve Racine, in net for the fourth consecutive time, made 24 saves on 25 shots, but none bigger than his final three saves as part of Michigan’s 2-1 shootout victory over Ferris State. The Wolverines effectively clinched home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs next weekend with the win after the CCHA’s final regular season comes to a close.
Michigan’s third sweep of the season following last weekend’s sweep of Ohio State means that they will play host to Northern Michigan next Friday.
A scoreless third period in which neither team could capitalize on opportunities forced overtime, where Michigan needed to escape with at least one point or head on the road to Bowling Green.
“That’s how fickle this all is,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson.
Under a minute to play, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels pulled his goalie, sophomore C.J. Motte. But the Bulldogs were unable to get a good look at the net, turning the puck over with less than 30 seconds. Michigan drove the puck up the ice, but they were prevented from scoring.
And as the game appeared headed to a shootout, senior Travis Ouellette was left untouched near center ice where he received the puck. With eight seconds ticking away, Ouellette deked right then left but was stuffed by Racine to force the shootout.
A.J. Treais scored the first and only goal of the shootout as Racine took care of the rest. Blocking each shot with legs, Racine sealed the win and was stormed by his teammates.
“All year we’ve been complaining goals against, and our goalies,” Berenson said. “I think it was pretty clear tonight that our goalie won us the game. He was the difference in the game.”
Treais said that playing in front of a goaltender whose making all the stops behind you – much like Shawn Hunwick did for the Wolverines time after time last year – makes it easier to focus on your own game.
“It just gives you more confidence,” Treais said. “Just like playing in front of Shawn last year. When you got a goalie, and you got confidence in the goalie, you don’t have to worry about who’s in net. You expect him to make the right saves and even steal a few.”
But Racine had set the tone early in the game when he slid in front of the net from left to right where he kicked away a save, and then back to the right before turning away two more.
“I’ve really been working hard in practice, just trying to get better,” Racine said “I was playing a lot in the beginning of the year, and once that goes away you notice that maybe you took (starting) for granted a little bit.”
Yet if there was one senior to make sure his night wasn’t ruined, it was forward Kevin Lynch.
Eight minutes into the period, freshman forward Andrew Copp drew Bulldog defenders into the left circle to leave room for Lynch — who snapped his wrists and watched the puck circle around the back of the net.
“It’s very special,” Lynch said. “Any time you have a chance to have another series at home it’s huge, and obviously it’s a very special night for our seniors.”
His goal came as the game got chippy, with seven penalties called. Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba was handed a 10-minute major penalty as part of four penalties issued in a minute and a half span.
Ferris State’s 12th-ranked power play scored just one goal with an extra man over the weekend, as the Wolverines penalty kill stepped up to clear pucks and block shots at the right time.
Both teams would slowly work through the end of the first period and through the opening of the second, though, until Ferris State would break a long scoring drought that spanned back to the first period of Friday night’s game.
As the puck circled the boards, freshman defenseman Zach Dorer scored his first-career goal when he hit a weak shot at the net that deflected off sophomore Mike Szuma, interrupting what was otherwise a fantastic night for Racine.
But Michigan had its chances following the goal. Sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe was a catalyst in the Wolverines offense, spreading the defense out wide by bringing the puck down the side of rink.
With the second period approaching a close, Copp had Michigan’s best chance, charging at the net and knocking over Motte in the process of his shot. Sophomore Justin Selman followed him in, pushing the puck to the goal line, but Motte kept it out upon review.
Motte finished with 35 saves on 36 shots, bailing his team out late through the game to help force the overtime.
Racine was bailed out too, halfway through the third period, as Ferris State missed the net on a breakaway. As the puck was tossed around the net, the Bulldogs couldn’t find twine even when Racine was sprawled out to the left of the net.
“I still think we’re a team that has something to prove,” Berenson said. “Let’s face it, you can’t forget about the 30 games that we’ve played before. But nevertheless, I like our team, I think we have a chance to be a team that moves forward, and we’ve got to go one series at a time.”