Michigan Has Little Left For Penn State This Time
by Michael Persak/CHN Reporter
DETROIT Michigan had its eyes on the Big Ten Tournament weeks before it started. Having been eliminated from making the NCAAs as an at-large bid long ago, the Wolverines knew that it would be their last opportunity to continue their season.
Even after Michigan’s Senior Night last week, a night where emotions run high for those playing their final home game, the Wolverines kept their focus on what lay ahead.
“It’s hard to say this in the moment, but it’s behind us now,” said senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort after beating Penn State on March 11. “This feels good for tonight, and I’m excited to celebrate it with family, but we’re looking forward.”
Despite that focus, just one minute into the second period, Michigan found itself trailing 4-0 to the Nittany Lions. It was only then that the Wolverines began to show some flashes of what had brought them two consecutive victories over Penn State the week before.
Senior forward Alex Kile scored a goal that was disallowed after a review. Kile would go on to play extra shifts at the end of the game in a last-ditch effort to even the score. Nagelvoort faced multiple odd-man rushes throughout the game, but held the Nittany Lions scoreless over the final 39 minutes.
But in the end, Michigan couldn’t overcome its lackluster start to the game, losing 4-1.
“I thought the team that got the best start tonight was going to have the advantage, and obviously they took advantage,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They scored I think with six seconds left in that penalty, and then scored a late goal, last-minute goal in the first period, and we just couldn't answer the bell.”
Added junior defenseman Sam Piazza, "They just jumped on us early and they were able to get that power-play goal. It was just unfortunate (it) went down to the power play. Thought we finished the game strong, but it was just too much to come back from.”
Now the Wolverines’ season is finished, and for the six Michigan seniors, the loss marked the last game of their careers.
And though the Wolverines won four of their last five regular-season games to give them a good feeling coming into the postseason, they left Joe Louis Arena dejected.
“Well, I don't think it hits you until the game is over,” Berenson said. “Like we didn't worry about any of that coming into the game. We worried about having a good game, our best game so that we'd have a chance to play again tomorrow.
“And now that it's over, it's going to hit the seniors hard, and they're going to start realizing that this is it. ... It's this way every year. If you don't win your last game, it's a tough way to finish your career.”
The six seniors — Kile, Nagelvoort, forward Max Shuart, forward Evan Allen, defenseman Nolan De Jong and defenseman Kevin Lohan — experienced the frustration of having solid teams that fell short of their goals in their freshmen and sophomore seasons, and they felt the high of making a postseason run last season.
This season, on a team that was disappointing throughout the year, they looked to the Big Ten Tournament as the last opportunity to salvage a good feeling. But as Berenson said, after falling flat from the opening puck drop, the six seniors experienced a “tough” way to finish their careers.