GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Down three goals just after the start of the second period, the Colorado College Tigers turned Saturday’s game around with special teams and goals from unexpected sources, beating the Michigan Wolverines, 4-3, to advance to the 2005 Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio.
And with the nation’s four leading scorers on the ice — CC’s Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling, Michigan’s Jeff Tambellini and T.J. Hensick — doesn’t it just figure that the game-winning goal was engineered by the CC second line, and scored by a center who had just eight tallies on the season coming in?
At 10:06 in the third, junior Trevor Frischmon picked up the rebound from sophomore J.P. Brunkhorst’s right-slot-side shot and fired it back at the Michigan net, beating an off-balance Al Montoya on the glove side to finally give the Tigers a 4-3 lead.
In fact, the line of Frischmon, Brunkhorst, and Joey Crabb had a hand in the final three CC goals, with Frischmon scoring the second Tiger goal as well as the game-winner, and Crabb netting the marker that tied it up early in the third.
“We’ve had times during the year when we’ve struggled putting it in the net, said Crabb, “but what a game to finally do it.”
The win was particularly sweet for a Colorado College squad that traveled to Michigan for the third time in four years for an NCAA regional, losing the last time (2003) to the Wolverines, 5-3, in Michigan’s Yost Arena.
“It’s even more satisfying because Michigan is such a great program that has been how many consecutive years to the NCAAs? I don’t even know,” said CC head coach Scott Owens.
“I think the fact that two years ago and three years ago we had to go to Ann Arbor [for regional play] and two years ago we got beat 5-3. You know, we were hoping to get on an Olympic sheet in the regionals, and we came here. Michigan was playing so well that we were very concerned.”
The Wolverines jumped out to a three-goal lead by 1:32 of the second period on scores by Tambellini, Brandon Kaleniecki, and Eric Nystrom, but the Tigers came alive with two goals in the second period.
“Sometimes, the ugly goals are the goals that kill you,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “That’s what we saw tonight.”
Ugly, as when Michigan was up 3-0 at 6:13 in the second but down two men with Nick Martens and Brandon Rogers in the penalty box — Martens for obstruction-tripping, Rogers for boarding — giving the CC power play a chance to cycle the puck to Sertich, who fired from the slot to beat Montoya high and clean midway up.
Ugly, as when Frischmon scored his first goal of the night on a shorthanded, three-on-one breakaway at 15:27 in the second, stuffing the puck under the body of a prone Montoya.
Ugly, as when Crabb tipped in a shot by Frischmon at 4:24 in the third to tie the game, a goal that was reviewed to ascertain whether or not the puck again hit Frischmon’s potentially high stick.
But of course, ugly is in the eye of the beholder.
“We had a fantastic comeback against a great team,” said Owens. “We have found different ways to win all season. We kept our composure, made a couple plays and had contributions from all areas. We have a real tight team, a close-knit group, that never quit.”
Owens, who will make his first trip as a head coach to the Frozen Four, added, “I think it’s great for our program, our families, our school.”
Just as they had the night before, the Wolverines jumped out to a quick start, scoring two first-period power-play goals for a 2-0 lead at the end of one. At 9:17, Tambellini fired from the high slot on a feed from Eric Werner, and Kaleniecki popped in his from the front of the crease on a tic-tac-toe play from David Moss and Rogers at 15:14.
When Nystrom scored at 1:32 in the second to give the Wolverines a 3-0 lead, the night seemed to belong to Michigan. Nystrom flew in with Andrew Ebbett on a two-on-one, with Ebbett carrying the puck and shuffling over at the last minute for Nystrom’s shot from the bottom of the left circle. Tiger goaltender Curtis McElhinney made the initial stop but was plowed into by his own defensemen, Jack Hillen, forcing the puck through the five-hole.
The play was reviewed and the goal was good. So, apparently, were the Tigers.
“That was an unfortunate goal,” said McElhinney. “I made a great save and Jack just kind of rolled into me there. It was kind of a goal which I didn’t really think was a goal, but that doesn’t really matter. The way that this team shows confidence in me is that they battled hard for the rest of the game and came back. The way that they finished off this game was truly phenomenal.”
Even down three goals, said Crabb, the Tigers never thought the game was out of hand.
“All through the game, when we were down … we never got discouraged. If you’d told me before the game that we’d go down 3-0 against Michigan, I’d have doubts in my mind that we could win the game, but nobody got down and we kept talking about that, and for some strange reason I just knew that we could do it for the whole time.”
There would have been good reason for CC to doubt its ability to come back against a three-goal Wolverine lead; Michigan had not blown such an advantage since 1987.
Nystrom, the Wolverine captain and one of eight Michigan seniors in the lineup, was angry after the loss.
“It’s a bad way to go out. We had such a great effort to start the game, and we just ran out of steam in the third period. They kept coming at us. I’m just really pissed off that that’s the way we had to go out.
“That’s a sour taste, but the hard thing is going around the locker room and hugging those guys for the last time. [We're] never going to put the Michigan jersey on together again.
“The game is just a game — and it’s a big game, and it hurts to lose that — but they are your closest friends, and not to be able to play with them again is even harder.”
The Wolverines finished the night 2-for-5 on the power play. Montoya made 19 saves as Michigan outshot Colorado College 27-23.
The Tigers were 1-for-7 on the power play and added that momentum-turning shorthanded goal.
McElhinney, who stopped 24, was by no means the certain starter in this game after giving up five goals in CC’s 6-5 win over Colgate Friday, but Owens said that he decided to go with the guy who brought him to the dance.
“I guess if we were going to go down, I wanted to go down with my senior, my All-American … who was 61-15 going into this game as a record. He didn’t have a lot of work. That was part of the issue last night and I thought he would come back.
“He fought his way through it a little bit early, and he was huge in the last — he hunkered down, and dug in, and the team can feed off of that.
“He’s a senior, he’s been there and he’s battle-tested, his winning percentage is sick, and if you’re going to lose, I want to lose with our senior guy.”
Colorado College (31-8-3) is making its first Frozen Four appearance since a 6-2 semifinal loss to North Dakota in 1997.
The Wolverines finish their season 31-8-3.