DETROIT — Despite Alaska-Fairbanks freshman goalie Wylie Rogers’ best efforts, Jeff Tambellini and No. 4 Michigan are headed to their fifth consecutive CCHA championship game after a 3-1 win in the first semifinal at Joe Louis Arena Friday.
The Wolverines peppered Rogers with 46 shots total, but were unable to put one in the net until midway through the second period.
“If it wasn’t for Wylie Rogers, this could have been a lot worse than a 3-1 game,” UAF head coach Tavis MacMillan said. “They’re good, they’re just very good. They not only are skilled, but they work very, very hard. Their forwards pose a lot of problems for our defense. Our defense had a hard time containing their speed and containing their competitiveness along the wall.”
Tambellini used his speed to set up Brandon Kaleniecki for the game’s first tally at 12:13 in the second.
Streaking up the ice, the junior forward created space by hitting the brakes before he found Kaleniecki, racing to the left slot. Kaleniecki didn’t hesitate and fired a wrist shot high and left over Rogers’ shoulder.
On the second Michigan goal, Kaleniecki returned the favor with a pass from left of center ice that put Tambellini in all alone behind the Nanook defense. Because the Fairbanks defender misplayed the puck, Tambellini took the pass off the right boards at the Nanook blue line, raced in and blasted a shot inside the right post.
“The tough goal was the second goal with 18 seconds left in the second,” said MacMillan. “One thing we talked about was Tambellini’s speed and not letting him get to the outside. It was just a great play by a great hockey player.”
The goal gave Michigan momentum heading into the third, but the Nanooks would not go away, finally getting on the board with a goal from Ryan McLeod 2:43 into the final stanza.
Just minutes later, freshman Chad Kolarik put the game out of reach on the power play, making it 3-1. Kolarik was camped out behind Rogers on the left post when captain Eric Nystrom found him with a cross-ice pass for his 18th goal of the season and his 11th with the man advantage.
“You have to give Wylie Rogers credit,” Berenson said. “He was a factor in this game right from the start on the first big save he made. I thought our team did a good job of getting the puck to the net. We made some good plays, but he was good.”
On the other side of the ice, Al Montoya had an unremarkable day in net and faced just 13 shots. The lone goal by the Nanooks was the result of a turnover just outside the crease and was more of a good play on the puck by McLeod than a mistake by Montoya.
“It was a tough game for a goalie to play, because you’re not getting a lot of good shots,” Berenson said. “You do worry about it, but Al was good. This was a game of focus because you knew that when they did get a chance it might be a real good one. It might be a breakaway or a tough shot and he had to be ready. I thought he did a good job.”
Michigan is looking to carry its current momentum into the NCAA tournament, something it didn’t do last year, losing the CCHA championship game to Ohio State. The Wolverines are on a season-high 10-game winning streak and are unbeaten in their last 13 games.
“It’s huge ” any time you lose the final game, nobody wants to do that,” Tambellini said of going into the NCAA tournament on a high note. “Especially when it’s one of your rivals. Last year it dropped us back a little bit. Going into the NCAAs, like we did our freshman year, winning the CCHA is such a boost for your team. To get a win going into the big tournament would be huge.”
Michigan will face Ohio State in the championship game at 7:35 p.m. in Joe Louis Arena Saturday.