DETROIT — Who said Michigan’s best freshmen are playing in the Czech Republic at the World Junior Tournament?
Freshman Michael Woodford made a statement of his own as he netted a hat trick to help the Wolverines overcome multiple deficits, defeating the Huskies in the Great Lakes Invitational consolation game, 7-4.
The three goals were Woodford’s first tallies of the season, and they couldn’t have come at a more important time for Michigan.
“This was a must-win game for us,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
With nearly 40 percent of Michigan’s scoring playing overseas in the World Junior Tournament, including its two star freshmen — Dwight Helminen and Eric Nystrom — it was the rest of the 12-member class that stepped up.
Also, Berenson started senior netminder Kevin O’Malley over last year’s team MVP, Josh Blackburn.
“I didn’t think Blackburn was at his best last night,” Berenson said. The legendary coach wasn’t too pleased with Blackburn giving up 19 goals in his last three GLI games, including five Friday night against North Dakota. But O’Malley struggled early.
The Huskies scored on their first two shots — both breakaways — to take a 2-0 lead in the first few minutes, including Tech’s Frank Werner taking it in all alone on O’Malley before deking and placing it right under the netminder’s pads.
But Werner’s younger brother, Michigan freshman defenseman Eric Werner, got his hand in on the action as well — literally.
After a soft shot by Frank Werner from behind the net took a weird bounce off O’Malley and snuck through his legs to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead, Eric Werner and a few other unheralded freshmen went to work.
Freshman Michael Woodford’s shot from the point bounced in the air in front of Michigan Tech goalie Brian Rodgers. That’s when Eric Werner crashed the net and smacked the puck with his hand down to his stick. His shot was blocked, but fellow freshman Milan Gajic slammed home the rebound — his second goal of the tournament that pulled Michigan within a goal at 3-2.
The play was reviewed after referee Mark Wilkins originally called the play dead as a hand-pass. But replays showed that the freshman got his stick on it before Gajic slapped it in.
“We didn’t handle that very well,” Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich said.
After Brett Engelhardt’s goal midway through the second period gave the Huskies some more breathing room in the form of a 4-2 lead, Michigan took over. Sophomore Joe Kautz, Michigan’s hero in last year’s GLI, knocked in a rebound off a John Shouneyia shot to bring Michigan within a goal again.
Then the freshmen carried Michigan the rest of the way.
Berenson juggled his lines in the second period and struck gold in a combination three rookies — DAvid Moss, Woodford and Gajic.
Woodford tied the game when Gajic hit him on a blue-line to blue-line pass before Woodford took it in alone and beat Rogers. The goal came seconds after Woodford had hit the post and just a few minutes into the third period — giving Michigan some momentum.
Then, freshman Jason Ryznar nailed the game-winner on a breakaway of his own. Ryznar slipped the puck under Rogers’ pads — the netminder’s weakness all game long.