ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan freshman Jeff Tambellini has been compared to past Michigan superstars Brendan Morrison, Mike Comrie and Mike Cammalleri, His Friday night performance pushed Michigan coach Red Berenson to make a higher comparison.
“He has a Brett Hull shot,” Berenson said of Tambellini, after the 18-year old sharpshooter scored two goals, including the game winner, as the Wolverines defeated the Spartans, 3-1.
“Brett Hull, I don’t know about that,” Tambellini said of the comparison to the NHL star. “Whatever Coach says, I’m not going to complain about.”
And Berenson certainly can’t complain about Tambellini’s gratuitous shot-taking. The freshman is never too shy about shooting the puck. He has 20 goals in 29 games and has taken 126 shots — 55 more than the next Michigan player.
“Brett Hull didn’t score 700 goals without shooting,” Berenson said. Tambellini “is a goal-scorer. When you have the gift he has, you want him to shoot”
Berenson is most impressed with Tambellini’s ability to turn nothing plays into opportunities. And a nothing play gave Michigan a 1-0 lead just 13 seconds into the game. Tambellini carried the puck around the net along the right-side boards and slapped it towards MSU goaltender Matt Migliaccio. The puck deflected into the net.
The question — was Tambellini passing or shooting on the play?
“Uh, that’s a shot with me,” Tambellini said with a smile.
It looked and felt like a regular Michigan-Michigan State battle Friday. The Yost Ice Arena crowd, donned in Maize-out garb and given Thunderstix, was its loudest of the season. It got even louder as football coach Lloyd Carr received a standing ovation when he played Score-0 (He didn’t score, missing the net wide right on his fourth and final attempt).
But this year it wasn’t the same game. Michigan and MSU, who have won or shared the past nine CCHA regular-season titles, aren’t the cream of the crop in the CCHA. Third-place Michigan (21-7-1, 15-5-1 CCHA can’t knock off Ferris State and Ohio State at the top.
Michigan State, rebuilding in its first year under coach Rick Comley, entered the game 8-1-1 in its last 10 games and in fourth place.
The Spartans (16-11-2, 12-7-1) showed that they are learning Comley’s system of offensive aggressiveness. They outshot the Wolverines, 34-27.
“I’m encouraged about the fact that we went toe-to-toe with them.” Comley said.
MSU’s own offensive star, Jim Slater, gave the Spartans hope Friday, tying the game at 1 just 1:49 into the second period.
Slater caught Michigan defensemen Nick Martens and Brandon Rogers napping at the Michigan blue line. Slater snuck between them, received a long pass from Brad Fast and scored his 10th of the season.
Tambellini gave Michigan a 2-1 lead three minutes later. The turning point came when Slater hit the post on a wide-open attempt late in the period. Two minutes later, Jason Ryznar scored to give Michigan a 3-1 lead.
“We didn’t play poorly,” Slater said. “I had a couple good chances. I score on that play, and maybe it’s a different story.”
Slater “was an elite player tonight,” Comley said. And Tambellini?
“He’s everything he’s cracked up to be.”
MSU now has seven games left, including three against Michigan (the two teams play Saturday at East Lansing) and probably needs to win six of them to reach the bubble of the NCAA tourney.
Michigan freshman goaltender Al Montoya played his best game of the season one day after his 18th birthday. When asked about presents, he said: “My first win against Michigan State — what else could I ask for?”
Notebook: It was a somber game for Berenson, who this week visited his ill father, Otto, 90, in Regina, Saskatchewan. Senior Mark Mink said Berenson told the team last Saturday about his father, but that it wasn’t brought up during the week. “Coach doesn’t really talk about his personal issues,” Mink said.