By Michael Caples –
DETROIT – It’s hard to win a hockey game if you’re killing a penalty in the final minutes of overtime.
With junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe in the penalty box for an unnecessary boarding penalty, the Wolverines were forced to play one man down in the extra period.
They ended up paying for it.
Josh Pitt split the defense and scored on an end-to-end rush for the Western Michigan Broncos, who beat the Wolverines 3-2 Friday night at Comerica Park in the second semifinal game of the Great Lakes Invitational.
The special-teams play cost the Wolverines not only on the final play, but also throughout the entire evening. Michigan was held scoreless on eight power-play opportunities, generating only 11 shots on goal in the timeframe.
“I think it was a work in progress. I thought we got better as the game went on, we started to get some chances but we still couldn’t bury one. I thought we had good puck control, we moved the puck well, there were some good looks, but the puck either didn’t go through or it didn’t go in or we hit the post.”
Freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced in the outdoor contest.
JT Compher, who left Team USA’s World Junior camp early due to an injury, scored in his return to action, as did Travis Lynch (White Lake) in regulation for the Wolverines.
“Obviously, it’s upsetting to lose a game like that,” said Compher, a freshman who reportedly had a foot injury that kept him out of the World Juniors. “I thought that we didn’t start great, and throughout the game we started getting better and we played a good third period and Zach Nagelvoort really bailed us out all game. We couldn’t pick him up. I think it’s upsetting to lose a game like that.”
The Wolverines will now play rival Michigan State in the GLI consolation game; puck drop is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park.
“Playing State will be nice, but we would much rather be playing the later game,” captain Mac Bennett said. “State’s obviously a good team, a big rival of ours, so I’m sure everyone will be excited to play them tomorrow.”
Michigan and Western Michigan played to a scoreless first period, with the Broncos outshooting the Wolverines by a 9-7 margin.
It was Compher who opened the scoring, despite him being a game-time decision. The freshman forward got free for a breakaway while his team was shorthanded, and scored on a deke to the forehand to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead at the 6:35 mark of the second.
Four minutes later, Berschbach evened the score with some quick puck skills in front of the opponent’s goal. Taking a pass from Jordan Oesterle (Dearborn Heights), Berschbach capitalized on being left all alone in front of the Wolverines’ net, stickhandling quickly to his left and firing the puck past Nagelvoort.
At the 15:48 mark of the same period, Will Kessel gave the Broncos their first lead of the contest. The Bloomfield Hills native came away with the puck after a battle along the boards, and quickly sent a shot over Nagelvoort’s shoulder for a 2-1 WMU lead.
The game seemed to be going in favor of the Broncos in the early stages of the third period, until a questionable play changed the tone of the contest entirely. Western Michigan’s Josh Pitt fell in the neutral zone, which may or may not have been caused by the pursuit of Michigan’s Tyler Motte. Travis Lynch grabbed the loose puck, skated into the Broncos’ zone, and fired a shot over the shoulder of Hafner to tie the game at 2-2.
That’s the way regulation would end, before the two teams engaged in overtime to decide who would advance to take on Michigan Tech in Saturday’s GLI championship game.
In overtime, Pitt made an end-to-end rush where he flipped the puck past the Michigan defense, evaded a check, and sent a shot to the top corner in a play that will surely make some highlight reels.
Notes: St. Clair native Tyler Motte also returned to the line-up for Friday night’s game. The freshman forward was a late cut from the World Junior team, and it was said to be health-related. He had two shots on goal and one penalty… Compher said his foot is “feeling really good.”