By Matt Slovin –
ANN ARBOR – After posting a 4-2 record in the month of February, the Michigan hockey team started March on solid footing.
With crucial standings points hanging in the balance, the Wolverines disposed of Ferris State in the final CCHA regular-season Friday, 4-1.
“It’s just like I told our players, ‘It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you handle it,’ ” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We have handled it well. I think our team handled it well. We took a good step tonight.”
Michigan came out of the gate buzzing offensively, and an early lead seemed like a certainty. The Wolverines finally took advantage of the fast start when sophomore forward Zach Hyman batted in a shot from another sophomore forward, Travis Lynch, for his fourth goal of the year.
Then, midway through the period, the lead was stretched to two as junior forward Derek DeBlois netted his ninth of the season. Sophomore forward Alex Guptill skated around the net and Ferris State sophomore goalie C.J. Motte before dishing to freshman forward and Ann Arbor native Andrew Copp. Copp’s strong attempt hit Motte’s pad, but DeBlois was there to finish on the rebound.
But a whistle on freshman standout and U.S NTDP product Jacob Trouba for elbowing gave Ferris State its first chance to showcase its power play, ranked No. 12 nationally. Just 37 seconds into the man advantage, senior centerman Travis Ouelette took advantage as he beat a sprawled-out Michigan freshman goalie Steve Racine to pull the Bulldogs to within one.
On the goal, Michigan senior defenseman Lee Moffie was whistled for cross-checking, but the Wolverines prevented Ferris State from what would’ve been a game-changing two consecutive power-play goals with a timely kill.
“When you play this strong defensively, the offense just kind of comes, and you get bounces when you are working hard,” Hyman said. “I think that is what we’ve been doing.”
In the second period, a number of near-misses and beautiful glove saves from Racine plagued the Bulldogs. At the other end, Michigan continued to pepper Motte with a steady stream of shots.
Five minutes into the second frame, DeBlois mishandled a nice pass from Guptill that would’ve left him with a great look on goal.
But Michigan eventually regained its two-goal advantage an unfortunate Bulldog bounce in the neutral zone created an odd-man rush for sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe and junior forward Luke Moffatt. Di Giuseppe waited patiently with the puck until the last possible second before finding Moffatt who found a corner, giving the Wolverines the all-important two-goal lead entering the second intermission.
After two periods, Michigan held a 26-14 advantage over Ferris State in shots.
The Wolverines continued their 5-on-5 dominance in the third period. Senior defenseman Lee Moffie scored his third goal of the season on a lazy shot from the blue line that deflected off a Ferris State defenseman’s skate and into the net, surprising Motte.
Michigan now controls its own destiny for home-ice advantage in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Ferris State, due to its loss and Ohio State’s upset win over first-place Miami, will need to win the finale and get help to host the Buckeyes next weekend.
“We know that tonight’s game doesn’t really mean anything without tomorrow night’s game,” Berenson said. “And tomorrow night’s game is huge — it really means a lot. But it means a lot to everybody in the league. Our games are going to influence their own situation and everyone else’s.”
Added DeBlois: “I think that (home-ice advantage) is huge. We have obviously had our struggles, but I think we are playing our best hockey right now. Obviously, we have the best fans in the country and just playing at home would be tremendous.”