March 21, 2008
CCHA Semifinals
Michigan Bounces Northern En Route to Title Game

By James V. Dowd

Michigan 6, Northern Michigan 4
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-MI Chad Kolarik (28) EV
7:19 T. Miller, T. Llewellyn
1-NM Matt Butcher (8) EV
15:05 G. Hanson, R. Kaunisto

Second Period

2-MI Travis Turnbull (14) EV
9:31 L. Caporusso, M. Mitera
2-NM Mark Olver (21) EV
14:54 unassisted
3-NM Matt Siddall (17) EV
16:47 N. Sirota
Third Period
3-MI Tim Miller (4) EV
1:11 C. Langlais
4-MI Travis Turnbull (15) PP
6:30 M. Mitera, S. Kampfer
4-NM Jared Brown (9) EV
12:44 M. Siddall
5-MI Tim Miller (4) EV
16:00 C. Kolarik
6-MI Ben Winnett (6) EN
19:48 unassisted
NM: Brian Stewart, 59:12, 36 saves, 5 GA, 1 ENG
MI: Billy Sauer, 59:52, 18 saves, 4 GA
Penalties: NM 9/29; NDK 4/8
Power Plays: NM 0-2; MI 1-7
Attendance: 9,471

DETROIT — An empty net goal has never been a more appropriate metaphor than the rolling, bouncing, decelerating puck which Ben Winnett launched out of Michigan’s zone and which crept into Northern Michigan’s empty net to clinch the Wolverines' trip to Saturday’s CCHA title game.

The Wolverines have been known all year long for their pretty goals and opportunistic offense, but it was funny bounces, redirections, and unlikely heroes which helped propel them past Northern Michigan in a 6-4 semifinal victory.

“As you saw, it was a crazy game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “If you look at the shots and then you look at the scores, you saw two different games. But Northern battled hard in the game and took the lead on a couple of great individual efforts … We gave up goals that we normally wouldn’t give up, but on the other hand you have to give Northern credit. They battled, they took advantage of chances and easily could have won the game.”

Michigan took an early lead in a more typical fashion, a departure from the play that would dominate the rest of the contest. Alternate captain Chad Kolarik, who has played brilliantly with linemate Kevin Porter all season long, found himself with the puck behind Northern Michigan’s net and wrapped it around the front before Wildcats’ goaltender Brian Stewart could get to the opposite post.

Even with the Wolverines holding an early advantage, Northern Michigan kept itself in the game by pouncing on pucks and flowing into odd-man rushes. As the clock moved past the 15-minute mark of the opening period, Wildcat forward Gregor Hanson took the puck into the Michigan zone on a 2-on-1 with Matt Butcher at full speed and slipped it to his teammate, who then slid it between the pads of Wolverines’ netminder Billy Sauer.

Seeing his team take advantage of opportunities like this was a focal point for Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle heading into the game.

“We knew they were going to come at us and that they would outshoot us,” Kyle said. “We knew we had to do two things. First, we had to kill penalties, and I think we did that and two, we had to get counter opportunities and catch Michigan pressing, which we did.”

In the second period, the Wildcats continued to press Michigan even more, and held a 3-2 lead going into the final period even though NMU had taken just eight shots on goal. Despite having a lead, Kyle knew the game was far from won.

“I wasn’t feeling good,” Kyle said. “They’re too good to feel good. I was happy where we were but I knew we would have to do better to win.”

Kyle was right to be concerned, as Michigan took advantage of the was the beneficiary of the proverbial “puck luck” which often determines playoff games.

Instead of relying of Kolarik and Porter to carry them to victory, the scrappy pair of Travis Turnbull and Tim Miller took the team on their backs, scoring two goals apiece on deflections and bounces. Even with the lucky bounces, Miller knows his team must tighten up defensively to have a chance against Miami Saturday.

“One thing is that we can’t have as many turnovers at their blue line and our blue lines,” Miller said. “[Northern Michigan’s] third goal was caused by me leaving a drop pass to the blue line, and they went down and transitioned it and put the puck in the net. Miami is a great transition team, so we have to make sure we get pucks deep."

Besides the defense, another concern for Michigan could be the play of Billy Sauer. In past seasons, Sauer has struggled to bounce back from lackluster performances, but Berenson is confident that a more mature Sauer can keep his cool.

“I think Billy was like our team,” Berenson said. “He was victimized by some opportunistic shots. At one point, they had six shots on goal, and had three goals. Now, if he would have given up a bad goal we might have thought about getting him out of there, but it was a tough game for him to play. I like the way he battled in the third period. I think he’ll be solid tomorrow night.”


Miami 2, Notre Dame 1 (ot)
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
No scoring

Second Period

No scoring
Third Period
1-ND Evan Rankin (8) EV
15:30 B. Ryan, D. Kissel
1-MIA Mitch Ganzak (2) EA
19:56 C. Camper, J. Palmer
2-MIA Alec Martinez (8) EV
6:06 B. Kaufman, R. Jones
ND: Jordan Pierce, 66:06, 28 saves, 2 GA
MIA: Jeff Zatkoff, 65:52, 20 saves, 1 GA
Penalties: ND 7/14; MIA 6/12
Power Plays: ND 0-5; MIA 0-6

All season long, Notre Dame has been known for its stalwart defense — a defense that kept the team in the top tier of the CCHA despite a lackluster offense that managed just 2.64 goals per league game, seventh-best in the conference.

And during Friday’s CCHA semifinal game at Joe Louis Arena, the Fighting Irish blueliners and netminder Jordan Pearce continued that season-long trend, keeping Miami's league-leading offense off the scoreboard for 59:56 before finally succumbing.

Miami rode its power play to a number of great opportunities in the first two-plus periods, but Notre Dame built momentum in the late stages of the third period and appeared to finally draw first blood on a rocket by Mark Van Guilder at the 13:49 mark. The Fighting Irish captain sent the puck over Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff’s shoulder, but video review showed that it never completely crossed the goal line.

“To tell you the truth, it was an unbelievable shot,” Zatkoff said. “I stayed up on it and it still went over my shoulder. I wasn’t sure [if it went in], but when I saw the reply it looked like it hit the post.”

When referee Brian Aaron waved off the goal, Zatkoff, his teammates, and Miami head coach Enrico Blasi breathed a short-lived sigh of relief. Less than two minutes later, the Irish bounced back from the disappointment of the near miss to take the lead on a shot from forward Evan Rankin that bounced off Zatkoff’s trapper and into the net.

As memories of the team's strong play all season foreshadowed, Miami recovered from the disappointment of falling behind late in the third period and turned up the heat in the final minutes of regulation. The RedHawks caught a break with just seconds left in the third when captain Ryan Jones got tangled up with a Notre Dame defensemen at the edge of Pearce’s crease, which creatrd just enough of a diversion to distract Pearce, who couldn’t help but to brace in preparation of being bowled over. Right then, a point shot from Miami's Mitch Ganzak found its way into the back of the net with just less than four seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

In OT, Miami continued to generate offensive chances, and six minutes into the first sudden-death frame, the RedHawks turned their focus to creating traffic in front of the seemingly impenetrable Pearce.

After a scrum along the halfboards just inside the blue line, CCHA Offensive Defenseman of the Year Alec Martinez patiently gathered the puck and shot it through a maze of teammates and Notre Dame players alike, anxiously watching to see if he had launched his team into the CCHA title game.

“I got the shot off and it was hard to follow because of the traffic in front of the net,” Martinez said. “I didn’t know it went in until the mesh rippled a little bit and the puck dropped.”

And if the visual confirmation wasn’t enough to convince Martinez that his team had reached the conference final, physical affirmation in the form of his entire team piling on top of him moments later certainly was.

“It is kind of scary to be at the bottom of the pile with all the guys jumping on me,” Martinez said with a smile. “It is a good feeling, though.”


• While Jordan Pearce was obviously shaken by the last second-goal which sent his Fighting Irish into overtime rather than into the title game, coach Jeff Jackson and Pearce's teammates still know they can count on the junior netminder to help deliver an NCAA tournament berth with a win in Saturday’s third-place game.

“People still don't want to believe that [Pearce] is the type of goaltender that I've been talking about for the last several months,” Jackson said. “I think he's elevated his game, he's gotten better as the season has progressed. He wanted to do well [at Joe Louis Arena] and the thing is that he's learned to be able to handle the mental aspect of it a lot sooner than I expected him to just because, basically, he's never been through it before.”

INCH's Three Stars of the Night

3. Jordan Pearce, Notre Dame and Jeff Zatkoff, Miami
An exceptional duel between to outstanding goaltenders in Friday's first semifinal match.

2. Travis Turnbull, Michigan
The junior forward came into the night with 30 career goals, but no two-goal games. That changed with a pair of tallies against Northern Michigan.

1. Tim Miller, Michigan
On a night when kooky goals were the rule, it's only fitting that an old-fashioned grinder like Miller got a pair of goals by battling his way to the front of the net.

• Michigan forward Tim Miller scored two goals, his third and fourth of the season, in the third period of the Wolverines' win against Northern Michigan. His first and second goals came at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 23 in Michigan's 5-2 win against Michigan State.

• Michigan's all-time record against Northern Michigan in the CCHA Tournament improved to 6-0-0 with Friday's win.

• Notre Dame managed just one goal against Miami. The Fighting Irish scored two or fewer goals in nine of their last 12 games and were 4-5-3 during that span.

• Saturday's title match between Miami and Michigan features the only two teams in the country averaging more than four goals per game — the RedHawks lead the nation in scoring offense at 4.15 goals per game, while the Wolverines are second at 4.03 goals per game — and the nation's top three goal scorers. Miami's Ryan Jones sits atop that category with 30 goals, while Michigan's Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter are tied for second with 28 goals apiece.

• Tomorrow's championship game will be televised in high definition on Fox Sports Net Detroit. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. ET.


Memorable in more ways than one: Miami's Mitch Ganzak earned his 100th career point when he scored the game-tying goal in the RedHawks' win against Notre Dame. He's the 41st member of the school's 100-point club, and just the fifth defenseman to earn a spot on that list.

The announced attendance of just under 9,500 fans was probably a tad generous, but the weather in the area certainly squelched any thoughts of a strong walk-up gate. Most of the southern third of Michigan was under a winter storm warning thanks to a weather system that dropped up to a foot of heavy wet snow in some parts of the state.


Remember that much-hyped series between Michigan and Miami last month? Seems like ancient history now, but the RedHawks and Wolverines meet again with the Mason Cup on the line this time around. It's the first time the two schools have played for the CCHA playoff championship. The outcome of the title match in terms of NCAA tournament seeding is, for all intents and purposes, moot. Both teams are likely to earn No. 1 seeds.

While we're discussing NCAA tournament ramifications, a win over Northern Michigan in Saturday's third-place game will likely cement Notre Dame's claim for an at-large bid.

"We're really sitting on the bubble,” Fighting Irish captain Mark Van Guilder said. “Our season is going to continue or it's going to be over. It's do or die now.”

Mike Eidelbes contributed to this report