ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It wasn’t pretty or perfect, but Brandon Kaleniecki’s second goal in Michigan’s 4-2 win over Lake Superior State was unforgettable.
Midway through the first the Lakers almost managed to clear the zone, but Andrew Ebbett kept the puck from crossing the blue line, blindly throwing it back toward the net.
Kaleniecki received the pass, but no one in the Yost Ice Arena crowd was prepared for what happened next. Kaleniecki tripped over his own stick in front of the Laker net, but, on the way down, was able to curl his blade around the puck and put it five-hole on Jeff Jakaitis. From his belly, Kaleniecki threw up his arms in celebration.
“I saw the puck turnover at the blue line, and then I saw (the puck) coming to me and I got a little excited,” Kaleniecki said. “I think there was tape on the ice, actually, a little rut. It was pretty embarrassing; I didn’t even know if I wanted to score that.”
Kaleniecki isn’t shy to score goals, especially those of the highlight-reel variety for the Wolverines this season. Before last night’s 3-2 loss to the Lakers, Kaleniecki had been riding a seven-game point streak since returning from injury. He now stands at 13 goals on the season, tying him for second on the team with T.J. Hensick.
The dangerous upperclassmen duo of Kaleniecki and Ebbett also connected on two other Wolverine goals in the game.
Ebbett hopped on another Laker turnover early in the first, finding Kaleniecki to the right of the net. Jakaitis spread himself at an angle across the crease, and Kaleniecki’s shot bounced over Jakaitis’ pad and into the net.
After Kaleniecki’s two tallies, Ebbett got himself on the scoreboard with six minutes remaining in the first period. From the top of the left circle, Ebbett ripped a slap shot that whizzed by Jakaitis’ glove and into the top corner.
When asked if he’d ever scored a goal like that, Ebbett just shrugged.
“Practice maybe,” he said. “Maybe juniors. That was an about one in 1,000 shot right there. I was telling the guys, that was something (former Wolverine Jeff) Tambellini would do back in the day. That won’t happen again.”
It was Ebbett’s 10th goal of the season, a career high. Over the last eight games, Kaleniecki and Ebbett have led the offensive charge for the Wolverines, combining for 11 goals and 11 assists.
“They were obviously a big factor in the way this game went, (especially) in that first period,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We’re trying to get all our lines clicking and that line is clicking.”
Michigan built a 4-0 lead on a give-and-go between Tyler Swystun and Danny Fardig.
But the last two minutes of the period saw Michigan’s lead cut in half.
On the shift after Michigan netted its fourth, Steve McJannet sped into the zone, stopped and feathered a perfect cross-ice pass to Kory Scoran, who snuck a shot into the top left corner past Noah Ruden’s glove.
Less than a minute later, Dan Eves backhanded a shot over the goaltender’s outstretched pad.
That was the end of the offense for both teams as the game took on a defensive twist for the last 40 minutes. Unlike last night, where the Lakers peppered the Michigan net with 37 shots, they could only muster 20 toward Ruden tonight and were unable to build off the late comeback in the first.
“They clamped down good,” Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque said. “They’re a tough team to come back and score goals against. I’m really proud of our guys. We came here and played five good periods of hockey and one period that we’d like to have back.”
For Michigan, the win was key in the battle to stay near the top of the CCHA standings with only one home game remaining in the regular season.
“It’s crunch time right now, whether you’re looking at the national ranking or the CCHA playoff chase,” Ebbett said. “We want home ice, and we have to win the home games to do that.”