DETROIT — A rested Michigan, playing tentatively at times, got it going in the third period with a barrage of four goals, defeating the Northern Michigan Wildcats, 5-1, in the semifinals of the CCHA Super Six on Friday night.
“[Northern Michigan] was in the game after two periods and gave us a real good game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We knew it would be a close game.”
Brandon Kaleniecki had two goals in the game, including the game-winning goal on the power play, 28 seconds into the third.
The Wolverines (26-12-2), well-rested after sitting out the opening round of the Super Six with a bye, were noticeably fresher than a Wildcat team which skated hard and held on for a 2-1 win against Michigan State on Thursday night.
Northern Michigan (21-15-4) matched the Wolverines through the much of the first two periods of play Friday night before fatigue kicked in late in the second and the third periods.
“Our guys were dead, there’s no doubt.” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle about the third period. “That’s not an excuse. They’ve just come through a real difficult trip. I’m proud of the effort our guys had.”
Berenson agreed with Kyle. “There had to be a fatigue factor at some point.”
For the Wolverines, who have struggled offensively in the past few weeks, this game was a good warmup for the championship.
“This was a steppingstone for our team,” said Michigan freshman T.J. Hensick, who had a goal and an assist in the game. “When we play with emotion and intensity, we’re as good as any team in the nation.”
Al Montoya played well for the Wolverines, stopping 19 of 20 shots on net and garnering the number-one star on the night.
Equally as good was NMU backup goalie Tuomas Tarkki, starting his fifth game in a row for the Wildcats in place of injured senior Craig Kowalski. Tarkki stopped 29 in the loss.
“Tarkki did a great job,” said Kyle. “He had nothing to do with those — five goals. He sat quietly behind Kowalski, who’s a great goaltender, practiced diligently everyday, stayed out late with the guys to give them someone to shoot with, kept his mouth shut, accepted his role and grew, and when he got the opportunity he took advantage of it.”
The Wolverines opened the scoring in the second period on Kaleniecki’s first goal of the night. Kaleniecki took a pass from behind the goal line and beat Tarkki on the stick side for the 1-0 Wolverine lead, his 17th tally of the season, at 10:14.
Kaleniecki added his second goal of the game early in the third period on a power play. Eric Werner fed a pass through traffic from the bottom of the circle and found Kaleniecki standing in front of the crease. He stuffed it home to give his Wolverines the 2-0 lead. Gajic added the other assist for Michigan.
Jeff Tambellini made it 3-0 Wolverines at the 8:43 mark of the period. Michigan forced the Wildcats to turn the puck over in the Wolverine zone, creating a two-on-one chance for Michigan. Hensick fed a pass to Tambellini in front of the net, who beat Tarkki for 15th goal of the year.
David Moss added another marker just 40 seconds later in another two on one chance. Moss faked a pass to winger Jason Ryznar and fired the puck into the top corner of the net.
Less than a minute later, Hensick and Tambellini were involved in yet another two-on-one. This time, Hensick was on the receiving end of a Tambellini pass, notching his 12th goal of the year. David Rohlfs assisted on the play.
The Wildcats spoiled the shutout with under two minutes to go in the game. Dave Bonk tipped a Matt Hunter shot past a surprised Montoya to put the ‘Cats on the board. Bobby Selden had the second helper.
Brian Garavaglia, added to the team last week as the No. 2 goaltender for the ‘Cats, made his debut with just over two minutes to go in the game, to the thunderous cheers of the Wildcat faithful. Garavaglia was recruited out of assistant coach John Kyle’s skating class to be the backup goalie for the playoffs.
The Wolverines were 1-for-4 on the power play. The Wildcats were blanked in three tries with the man advantage.