DETROIT — Dwight Helminen’s natural hat trick spurred Michigan past Ohio State, 3-0, to advance to Saturday’s CCHA title game against Ferris State.
Helminen scored twice in the second and added a shorthanded goal midway through the third for his first career hat trick. Al Montoya made 31 saves in his fourth career shutout.
And that was, well, that.
“We knew it would be a close game,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. That it would be tight was nearly a given, since Michigan and Ohio State played back-to-back ties in Columbus just two weeks ago.
“Ohio State played last night and we didn’t know whether that would.hurt them or help us having the bye,” Berenson said, “but you can see from the game there wasn’t much to choose between the teams.
“Al Montoya played a good game. He was the difference in the game defensively, and Dwight Helminen was the difference offensively. Otherwise, it was a close game.
“Neither power play was very effective. I thought they had better scoring chances than we had.”
Helminen’s first goal at 8:06 in the second was assisted by Eric Nystrom and Danny Richmond. Helminen shot and OSU netminder Mike Betz temporarily stopped the shot; the puck, trapped by Betz’s skate, trickled across the line to give Michigan the 1-0 lead.
At 10:43, Helminen took advantage of a funky bounce off the dashers behind the OSU net. From the boards, the puck landed on Helminen’s stick; the sophomore found the far side of the Buckeye net to put the Wolverines up 2-0.
Helminen capped the game at 9:37 in the third, shorthanded.
“It’s obviously disappointing.but I thought the effort was there,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “You have to score a few goals in order to keep Michigan at bay. I thought we created enough opportunities to maybe get one or two.
“This is why the seeding is so important. For the first seven or eight minutes of the second period, I thought [Michigan] had more jump in their step than we did.
“My congratulations to them. They’re a good hockey club, and they played like they deserved second place [in the regular season].”
Neither team capitalized on the power play; Michigan went 0-for-7 and OSU went 0-for-5. Mike Betz made 21 saves in the loss.
When the teams met two weeks ago, each team watched its two-goal lead evaporate. That, said OSU junior Chris Olsgard, kept the Buckeyes from packing it in after the second period. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to come back.”
Helminen, who suffered a five-game scoreless streak, now has five goals in three playoff games.
“I’ve had chances,” said Helminen, “but things weren’t going in.” He added that the hat trick felt “great.”
Of Helminen, Berenson said — with a rare, postgame hint of a smile — “When I looked at our stats and it said that he had not scored a goal at Joe Louis in his past.six games here, I was a little worried about him before the game.”
Ohio State (25-11-5) will see Northern Michigan in Saturday afternoon’s consolation game at 4:05 p.m. at JLA, while Michigan (27-9-3) faces Ferris State in the championship game scheduled for 7:35 p.m. Berenson said that the game should be a good match.
“They’re on a roll. Going into the game, we’ll be the visiting team and the underdog, which is maybe a little different from our role last year, so we have something to prove.”