Tough Pill to Swallow
Michigan's Special Teams Falter in First Round Loss
by Greg Bates/Special to CHN
GREEN BAY, Wis. Michigan entered the NCAA Tournament with aspirations to win its first national championship since 1998. Those dreams were put on ice for at least another year.
The Wolverines, which rolled through the second half of the season and had won seven of its previous nine games, were ousted from the postseason by Cornell, 3-2, after a lackluster performance in an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal game Friday night at the Resch Center.
“I think we could play with most teams,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “On a given night, we’re a pretty good team. (Shawn) Hunwick gives us a chance; he’s a terrific goalie and I like the defense. Our young kids were playing well, our seniors were playing well. We had good leadership, we had good chemistry and our special teams were pretty good. But nevertheless, we’re done.
“You had a good team. The best team doesn’t always win. I’m not saying we’re the best team but we’ve seen it over the years. Who you are on paper doesn’t necessarily keep you in the tournament.”
The loss wasn’t because Michigan, the regional’s top seed, didn’t have chances. The Wolverines had plenty and ended up with 33 shots on goal. In the second period alone, Michigan had five opportunities on the power play — 9 minutes, 37 seconds in all — including two two-man advantages. Michigan peppered Cornell goalie Andy Iles with 17 shots in the period, but the sophomore didn’t let up.
“With that much power-play time, we wish we could have popped one in there, but it’s hard to score on the power play,” Michigan center Kevin Lynch said. “Our team’s kind of struggled throughout this year.”
Michigan (24-13-4) entered the game converting just 23 of 150 attempts for the season. That 15.3 percent clip is 46th in the nation.
The Wolverines got off to a quick start when Luke Glendening scored after Iles blocked the first two shots of the sequence. It was 1-0 just 1 minute, 11 seconds into the game. Just 22 seconds later, Michigan had a goal wiped off the scoreboard because a player was illegally in the crease.
The Michigan players said that the disallowed goal didn’t hamper how they played the rest of the game.
“We’re not a team that lets that get into our head,” Lynch said. “Obviously we’d like to have that goal and go up 2-0 would have been huge. That stuff doesn’t get into our head. We’re a team that just keeps pushing and pushing.”
Cornell scored the next two goals and seized control of the game.
“I think their special teams were probably a factor in this,” Berenson said. “They scored their first two goals on the power play and shorthanded and then they kept our power play off the board and that was a big part of the game.”
Late in the second period, the Wolverines had the majority of a Cornell five-minute major penalty to go to work on their power play. Michigan got 13 shots on net.
“We did get shots through, we didn’t score,” Berenson said. “That was the frustrating part; we needed to score, especially when you’re behind in a game. When your power play gets a chance, you need to score.”
Michigan’s best chance came with 1:05 left in the second period when a shot went off the post. In the third period, the Wolverines put pressure on Iles, but a quality opportunity slid through the crease at the 3-minute mark.
Michigan finally caught a break when it scored with 4:01 remaining in the third period to tie the game at 2. After forcing overtime, the Wolverines’ momentum quickly vanished when it had a chance on the doorstep to end the game and Cornell raced down the other end and scored the game-winning goal.
“Anything can happen in the overtime — somebody (Rodger Craig) scores their (second) goal of the year and that’s the way it is,” Berenson said. “It’s not always your top players that score these overtime goals.”
The Wolverine players are already looking ahead to next season for another run at a national championship.
“That goal at the end there, that was tough to swallow, but like (goalie) Shawn (Hunwick) said, we’ll be here next year and I can’t wait to see what we have,” Lynch said.