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College Hockey:
Rookie Johnson Sends Michigan To Joe Louis

— If you didn’t see Michigan face off against Ferris State on Saturday night, it didn’t matter — the sounds of the game told the whole story.

It started right before the national anthem, when a fan yelled, “Three more years, Jack,” begging freshman standout Jack Johnson that it wouldn’t be his last start at Yost Ice Arena.

The same cheer started up again early in the third period, but this time the entire crowd joined in. Johnson poked the puck away in the neutral zone, dished it off to T.J. Hensick, and then gathered the return feed on the rush. Johnson stuck a blistering wrist shot, top corner, and handed Michigan a 3-2 win and series sweep.

“Jack has one of the best shots in college hockey, and he showed why,” Hensick said. “My eyes lit up when he was going in on that breakaway. I just knew he was going to score. I’m so confident in him.”

When asked if he would stay, Johnson gave a definitive answer: “I think the only way you’re going to get me out of here is at gunpoint.”

Just minutes before Johnson scored, Michigan netminder Noah Ruden turned away Ferris State’s best chance of the period. Adam Miller got behind defense on a breakaway, deked the netminder, and threw a backhander eyeing the back of the net. But Ruden, rolling backwards on his knees, got a glove over the puck before it crossed the goal line.

“The game was on the line, and let’s face it, the next shot was huge,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We had maybe our worst defensive breakdown and Noah made that save. That’s what your goalie is for. You hope that he can make the save in a game that can make the difference, and that was it.”

The Bulldogs almost tied it with four seconds left in the game. After a scrum off the faceoff, Adam Welch whistled his point shot just wide of the Michigan net, crashing into the back boards right before the final horn sounded.

Ruden, who as a senior started his first two playoff games this weekend, stopped 20 of 22 Bulldog shots. He had backed up Al Montoya the last three seasons before getting a shot at the starting job this season. After the game, the student section erupted, chanting his name.

“It’s a hell of a way to leave Yost after four years,” Ruden said. “Not only did we get a sweep, which we definitely needed, but also that cheer afterwards. That meant a lot. When you back up for three years, you really don’t think anyone knows you, and you come and you help this team win. That felt good to have the fans recognize that. It was unbelievable.”

With the game tied 0-0 after 20 minutes, Brandon Kaleniecki broke the scoreless tie for the Wolverines just 31 seconds into the second period off a tic-tac-toe passing play. Mitch O’Keefe made a pad stop on Kaleniecki’s first attempt, but couldn’t stop the rebound.

But the Bulldogs fired back with two quick goals midway through the second to take the lead. Eric Vesely was left untouched and able to easily dump it in an empty net.

The Bulldogs put on a power-play clinic less than a minute later and left Michigan to watch. After three tape-to-tape passes around the perimeter, Greg Rallo snapped a sharp-angle shot past Ruden.

Michigan tied the game up late in the second on the rush. Chad Kolarik feathered a pass across to Hensick deep in the slot, and Hensick tapped it past O’Keefe.

The last sound of the game was unheard by most fans. But Berenson heard it in the locker room for the first time since Dec. 10.

“The best thing about (the win) was we got to sing that song. We haven’t sung ‘The Victors’ since before Christmas as a team, and we don’t sing it unless we win both games. That was the best part.”

The Maize and Blue had not swept since beating Nebraska-Omaha in mid-December, but the sweep this weekend was the 14th in the last 17 playoff series for the Wolverines. With the win, Michigan secured a spot in the CCHA semifinals next weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

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