ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s been a frustrating season for the Michigan Wolverines, and their last game was no different.
After clinching a bye in the first round of the CCHA playoffs with a tie last night, and up 3-0 over Ferris State going into the third period at Yost Ice Arena, it seemed certain that Michigan would break out of its three-game winless streak.
But as much as the Bulldogs dominated play, the Wolverines self-destructed in the final frame, blowing a three-goal lead.
“We sat and talked the whole intermission about playing well without the puck, coming back, getting the puck in deep, finishing our checks playing good defensive hockey – all the things we do when we well in the third period,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And we didn’t do any of that.”
Just four minutes into the period, miscommunication between the Michigan forwards and defense led to Zac Pearson pick-pocketing Chad Kolarik deep in the Michigan zone. Pearson then slid a pass across to Mark Bombersback, who snuck the puck inside the left arm of Billy Sauer.
The Bulldogs notched another three minutes later. Danny Fardig lost a draw to the right of Sauer, allowing Ferris State to quickly work the puck back to the point. Corey Couturier ripped a sharp shot through Sauer’s five hole to cut the Wolverines’ lead to one.
Sauer and his teammates seemed to gain some confidence in the next few minutes, but the final blow was deadly. With five minutes left in the period, Matt Frank’s slap shot from the slot again found room between Sauer’s five hole. The goal stunned the entire crowd and the Michigan bench, sending the game into overtime.
“It was that kind of a period it just got worse, and worse, and worse,” Berenson said. “It was unbelievable. Easily our worst period of the year.”
But as the third season grew progressively worse for the Wolverines, overtime would not treat them any better. Less than a minute into the extra end, Bombersback and Pearson raced down the ice on a two-on-one against Jack Johnson.
Pearson made no mistake, burying the puck in the empty right side of the Michigan net.
“When Pearson got it at the red line, our assistant coach Derek Lalonde stood up and announced, ‘Game over!’ ” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “I don’t know how he knew it, but he had a premonition, and he was right.”
The goal left Sauer with his shoulders sunk, hanging his head until teammate Tim Cook piled off the bench to pat him on the back. Michigan has failed to hold on to a lead for the win in its last three games.
“It’s the same thing every weekend,” captain Andrew Ebbett said. “We keep talking and talking, but some time, someone’s got to step up and start doing. We need more guys who do we have too many talkers on this team. It’s frustrating.”
On Senior Night at Yost, this wasn’t the way that seniors Noah Ruden, Brandon Kaleniecki or Ebbett had planned to finish their regular season careers. Since firing off nine wins in its first 11 games, Michigan has won only nine in the last 25 games.
The Wolverines end the regular season at 18-13-5 overall, setting two more disheartening records: less than 20 wins for the first time since 1986-87, and the first time in 16 seasons that Michigan will not finish in the top two spots of the CCHA standings, finishing third behind Miami (Ohio) and Michigan State.
“This team is really on the bubble,” Berenson said. “I can’t remember when we had a team in this position. But we’ll deal with it. We’ve got good kids on this team, and maybe this break will be good for them.
“The playoffs are a new season. We can’t dwell much longer on this regular season. We’ve got to look ahead.”
After going winless in its last five, the victory against Michigan earned Ferris State home ice advantage heading into the CCHA playoffs, hosting Ohio State next weekend. Michigan will wait for two weeks to find out its first playoff opponent.
Michigan built its lead off three goals by freshman. Six minutes into the first period, the trio of David Rohlfs, Kevin Porter and Travis Turnbull connected on a tic-tac-toe passing play to give Turnbull his third goal in as many games. Johnson put the Wolverines up by two when he picked a pick out of midair in the Bulldog crease near the end of the period.
Andrew Cogliano capped the period, making good off a T.J. Hensick pass from a few feet in front of the net. It was Cogliano’s first in 10 games, sending the freshman looking up to the ceiling with his gloves pumped in air.