DETROIT — With Michigan’s fabled 20-game Great Lakes Invitational winning streak from 1987 to 1997 fading fast from college hockey’s collective memory, the Wolverines resorted to an unconventional offensive approach in Saturday night’s semifinal against Michigan Tech:
Draw a penalty, then shoot for the foot.
Michigan scored three power-play goals off the skates of Husky goaltender Cam Ellsworth and was 4-for-7 on the man advantage overall in a 5-3 win before 18,012 at Joe Louis Arena.
With the win, the Wolverines advance to the GLI championship game for the first time since 1999. They will face Boston University, a 6-1 winner over Michigan State in Saturday’s first semifinal, on Sunday at 5:05 p.m.
“This is a big tournament for us, being a local team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We needed some players to step up tonight, and they scored some huge goals. We got some bounces on the power play that we haven’t been getting of late.
“I thought Tech played a really good game,” continued Berenson. “We scored four goals on the power play and the other was on a 4-on-4, so 5-on-5 I’d say the teams were pretty even.”
That wasn’t enough for Tech, though, which was just 0-for-6 on the power play and saw its two-game win streak snapped.
“They’re quick,” said MTU coach Mike Sertich of Michigan’s power play, the nation’s best going into the game (84-of-91, 92.3 percent). “They deny you so many opportunities. Their quickness and their hockey sense can really take a lot away from you.”
That sense came into play with the Wolverines’ off-the-skate offense, as well. The bumper hockey started with Michigan trailing 2-1 in the second period and Michigan Tech forwards Chris Conner and Brett Engelhardt in the penalty box following a bizarre sequence that involved Michigan goaltender Al Montoya (19 saves) gloving a high shot before throwing a left elbow at Conner.
Even with Montoya given two minutes for roughing, the Wolverines ended up with a 4-on-3 power play.
“That was a real momentum shift,” Sertich said. “We ended up with that extra penalty, and we’re a young team so we didn’t know how to handle it.”
U-M defenseman Danny Richmond began the scoring sequence with a point shot that went wide of the cage and bounced off the boards behind Ellsworth.
Michigan captain Jed Ortmeyer then swept in behind the net, pulled the puck onto his stick and wristed it off the right skate of Ellsworth, who was retreating in expectation of a more conventional rebound. The puck slid past the goal line behind an unassuming Ellsworth with 9:25 to go in the period, tying the game 2-2.
“We just mess around in practice and bank it in like that,” said Ortmeyer, who had a career-high four points in the game. “Coach talks about it, so why not try it? I wasn’t looking to do that in the beginning, but in the end it happened that way. I was lucky enough to get it in off his skate.”
The Wolverines used more skate shenanigans to go up 3-2. Skating on the man advantage again, defenseman Brandon Rogers skipped a pass along the boards from his own zone to Ortmeyer, who corralled it as he crossed the Tech blue line.
Ortmeyer attacked the left wing before dropping a pass to freshman winger Jeff Tambellini. With his momentum moving toward the end line, Tambellini hurled an off-angle shot at the cage and hoped for the best.
From Michigan’s standpoint, “the best” happened: the puck flipped off Ellsworth’s boot and into the net, and the Wolverines were back on top with 4:53 to play in the second.
“I’d bet I score half my goals like that,” laughed Tambellini, who leads all Michigan freshmen with 12 points. “I caught him cheating a little bit, and that’s something I like to try to get the goalies on.
“Tonight we just did a terrific job on the power play of getting the goalie moving.”
Michigan went up 4-2 at 5:19 of the final period when assistant captain John Shouneyia sent a gorgeous cross-ice pass to Rogers, who warded off a Husky defender and slid the puck along the ice toward the cage. In his attempt to kick it away, Ellsworth (23 saves) inadvertently swept the puck into the corner of the net. Michigan had its game-winner.
The Wolverine power play, however, wasn’t finished. It added one more goal on a nice feed from Milan Gajic to Andrew Ebbett with 2:25 to go in the game to make it 5-2. Conner scored his second goal of the game with 27 seconds left to round out the scoring.
Michigan jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 11:48 of the first, when Shouneyia fed Ortmeyer on a 3-on-2 and the captain deked quickly before beating Ellsworth high to his glove side. Tech then moved ahead 2-1 thanks to gritty winger Colin Murphy, just 15 days removed from a knee injury in the Huskies’ 3-2 win over then-No. 14 Northern Michigan on Dec. 13.
Murphy, who was initially given a return date of mid-January, assisted on Conner’s goal at 19:36 of the first, then stepped in front of a clearing attempt by Michigan’s Nick Martens from behind Montoya, flipping the puck up to himself and baseball-swinging it into the cage with 15:50 to play in the middle frame.
“He played pretty well — I thought he was one of our better players tonight,” Sertich said of Murphy. “And that’s pretty good, considering [the injury] was to his MCL.”
Tech plays Michigan State in Sunday’s consolation game at 1:35 p.m., marking the third straight season those two teams have played in the GLI.