Working Overtime: Penn State Wins Thriller, Stuns Michigan
Wolverines Left on NCAA Bubble
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Michigan came into the inaugural Big Ten Tournament this week needing one victory to all but assure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. And it did wind up playing more than one game’s worth of hockey — 92 minutes worth, to be exact.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, their double-overtime thriller in the opening round on Thursday ended with a 2-1 loss to Penn State. For the Nittany Lions, three of their last four wins have come against the Wolverines. Meanwhile, Michigan’s chances to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament dropped significantly, and the Wolverines now need to sit and wait until Sunday afternoon to learn their fate.
“I’m disappointed, obviously,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “We’ve been on a bubble the last few weeks, and we didn’t help ourselves tonight.”
That was a bit of an understatement.
The Wolverines came into the game sitting at No. 11 in the Pairwise, but the loss immediately dropped them to No. 16, one spot out of the tournament field since the Atlantic Hockey champion will earn an automatic berth and be the No. 16 overall seed.
There are some scenarios where the Wolverines do find their way into the tournament, but goaltender Zach Nagelvoort said he can’t worry about that.
“It’s not really on my mind yet,” said the freshman, after making a career-high 63 saves.
“We’ll wait and see on Sunday where everything ends up,” added Berenson. “When you lose a game like this, you can’t expect to move up.”
It's quite the fall from grace for a program that, until last season, had gone to 22 straight NCAA tournaments. Now, it could be a second straight year without going to one. The question going forward for Michigan, if it doesn't make the NCAAs — and even if it does — is, what has happened? Is this a temporary blip or has the program's fortunes been altered?
Penn State's fortunes are headed the opposite way, even if it still has a ways to go. The Nittany Lions came into the tournament with just three Big Ten wins under its belt, but two of them were against Michigan — a 4-0 drubbing at Pegula Ice Arena in February and a 5-4 overtime win two weeks later at Yost Ice Arena.
Earlier in the week, Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said he didn’t think there was anything special about the matchup with Michigan. He said they played well and benefited from some luck.
Fortune, certainly, appeared to be on the Nittany Lions’ side in the first overtime. A scramble in the crease led to an errant puck flopping over Penn State sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff. It landed right on the goal line to Skoff's right and started spinning.
The puck came dangerously close to giving Michigan the win it needed to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but Penn State forward Eric Scheid kicked the puck out of danger with his right skate at the last second.
“The hockey gods had our back on that play,” Skoff said. “It was literally dancing on the line.”
Berenson said none of his players saw how close the puck was, so he didn’t want to overreact on the bench after the official review confirmed the no-goal call.
“We thought it should have gone in, but it didn’t,” Berenson said.
That shot was just one of 118 that the Wolverines and Nittany Lions sent toward the net in the game. Nagelvoort’s 63 saves shattered his previous personal best of 39.
Berenson said that his team started out too slowly against Penn State, but Nagelvoort was the reason his team had a chance to win.
“He kept the game close when we were at our worst and gave us a chance,” Berenson said.
That seemed to be the story of Michigan’s season, as they went on hot and cold streaks all year.
The Wolverines started the year with just two losses in their first 13 games. Then, they went winless over the next five, including a last-place finish at the Great Lakes Invitational. Michigan followed that losing streak with four wins in five games, and then it lost four more in a row.
Penn State was able to capitalize on Michigan’s inconsistency all season, and on Thursday it led to a big win for the Penn State program’s history.
“We’ve got goals as a program,” winning-goal scorer Zach Saar said after his shot off a faceoff beat Nagelvoort to end the game. “These are the types of games we look to win on a regular basis in the future. It was good step for us as a team.”
Gadowsky said his team showed they have a lot of character, being able to outlast a quality opponent for more than 92 minutes of play.
“I think we learned that we have guys with a lot of heart,” Gadowsky said. “I think it took us a while to sort of understand the mental strength it takes to play programs like Michigan and the other great programs in the Big Ten.”