ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan head coach Red Berenson summed up his Wolverines’ 2-1 win over Maine with one phrase.
“It [was] goalkeeping and special teams.”
After 46 minutes of shutout hockey, Eric Nystrom put Michigan on the board 1-0 at 6:47 in the third. Colin Shields tied it up 10 minutes later.
In the end, it was Jed Ortmeyer’s power-play goal with less than two minutes left in regulation that gave the Wolverines the victory and the chance to play for one of the coveted Frozen Four spots.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “It was a battle right to the end, there’s no question about that. I’m really proud of our players and how they competed, and how they came to play tonight.”
Berenson echoed his counterpart’s assessment. “I think the game was what everyone expected: hard fought, close, right down to the wire. I’m surprised it didn’t go into overtime.”
The game didn’t make it to OT because of Ortmeyer’s heads-up play with Travis Wight in the box for holding. After Jeff Tambellini’s shot was blocked in front of the Maine net, the puck came to Ortmeyer, who quickly poked the puck in behind Maine goalie Frank Doyle with his backhand.
With the deafening cheers of the home crowd as a backdrop, the game-winner was like an exclamation point for Wolverine netminder Al Montoya’s Herculean third-period effort.
“They’ve [Maine] got a great team,” said Berenson. “They probably deserved to win the game. If you look at the scoring chances, particularly in the third period, I thought Al was the difference in the game at that point.”
In that third period, the Black Bears fired from absolutely everywhere, attempting 37 shots, outshooting Michigan 13-8. Montoya was especially impressive in stopping Robert Liscak from point-blank range midway through the stanza, and Martin Kariya and Lucas Lawson, each of whom had grade-A chances high in the slot.
“I came into the game with just the thought of making my stops that I had to make,” said Montoya. “I knew our team would come through and help us win the game.
“I didn’t really think of the shots. I just played, stayed composed, stayed focused, and didn’t worry about what else was going on around me.”
To make it a 1-0 game, Nystrom picked up Michael Woodford’s rebound — but the play was all Nystrom from the get-go. Nystrom skated in left with Woodford right and made the initial shot, which Doyle saved. Woodford took another shot, and again Doyle came up big. But that third time was the charm, as Nystrom tucked the puck under the prone Maine goaltender.
“We talked before the game about playing strong, and I think that was a great example of a player who would just not be denied the puck,” said Berenson. “He fought his man off all the way from the red line to inside the blue line and finally came up with the puck and then stayed there when Woodford got his chance and ended up outbattling his man again.
“You talk about one-on-one strength or determination or will, whatever it was, Eric Nystrom has it.”
Shields’ goal at 16:06 was a shot that hit Montoya’s five-hole and then just trickled in. “It was right off the change,” said Shields. “I was the last guy off the ice. Martin [Kariya] and Lucas [Lawson] were breaking up the far side. Martin drove the defense wide, and I just drilled the net and beat their defenseman to the net. He made a good pass, got it to the far post, and I just deflected it.”
And like the rest of the Maine bench, with just four minutes to go in regulation, Shields thought that tying the game would force overtime.
“With the game as tight as that, we were looking towards overtime,” said Shields. “Certainly, it was a big relief for us to get on the board. We had a lot of shots on net, and their goalie was playing really well.”
But the call against Wight within the final two minutes of regulation changed that. Still, the late call didn’t decide the game, said Whitehead.
“There were calls both ways. We had our opportunities just like they did. I thought they worked very hard to win that game. I thought we worked very hard to win that game. They ended up with one more than us, and sometimes that’s just the way it is.”
Montoya finished the night with 34 saves, as the Black Bears outshot the Wolverines 35-27. Doyle stopped 25 for Maine.
Michigan (29-9-3) will face Colorado College (30-6-5) at 3:00 p.m. Sunday in Yost Arena, and the winner of that game will advance to the Frozen Four.
“Right now we know we’re up against a very tough opponent,” said Berenson. “I don’t know how much the difference in rest will be a factor, but I know our team is tired after this game and it was a big emotional win. We’ve got to get refocused and start thinking about an opponent who … is maybe the best team in the country.”