ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Connecticut chipped away and chipped away at a four-goal deficit it faced entering the third period against fifth-ranked Michigan at Yost Arena on Saturday night.
And after trailing 6-0 early in the second period, the Huskies found themselves down only one goal with 1:21 left in the game. What’s more, they were going on a five-on-three advantage for 54 seconds to try and tie the heavily-favored Wolverines.
Husky coach Bruce Marshall made that a six-on-three by pulling senior netminder Scott Tomes, but Michigan’s Chad Kolarik spoiled the Huskies’ upset dreams by stripping a Connecticut defender of the puck at the blue line and sliding a clearing shot the length of the ice into the empty net with 49 seconds left to preserve a 7-5 Wolverine victory.
The goal completed a hat trick for Kolarik as part of a four-point night for the junior forward.
“I think the defenseman actually fell down,” said Kolarik of the empty-netter. “I just threw it down since it was a penalty kill. I took a chance and it went in. It’s not the way I really wanted a hat trick.”
“I’ve always liked the character of this group of kids,” said Marshall of his team’s comeback effort. “And I was very disappointed in the effort in the first period.
“I just asked them, going into the third, to do something positive,” Marshall continued.
“Hockey’s a game of momentum,” pointed out Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I really liked our first period and the first half of the game. Then the penalties (came) and we were back on our heels.
“They outplayed us in a large part of the second half of the game,” continued Berenson. “The penalties definitely had a role. We could not stay out of the box and we couldn’t kill them. You can say, ‘Well, we scored seven goals,’ but when we give up five that’s not acceptable.”
Referee Stephen McInchak called 24 two-minute minors in the game that was dominated by special-teams play.
Sophomore Chris Myhro’s tally at 8:47 of the third period capped a three-goal spurt in seven minutes by Connecticut that brought it within one goal of Michigan.
The unassisted, shorthanded goal resulted from Myrho sweeping across the front of the Michigan net, knocking both Wolverine netminder Billy Sauer and the puck into the net.
Less than two minutes earlier, senior Husky captain Matt Scherer had banked in a rebound from Sauer from the front of the net on the power play to pull Connecticut within two. Sophomore defenseman Sean Erickson started the Husky rally less than two minutes into the final period with a shot from the point that deflected past Sauer off a Wolverine defender.
The Connecticut comeback was supported by 16 third-period saves by Tomes, who had entered the game early in the first period in place of freshman Beau Erickson. Erickson allowed three goals on Michigan’s first five shots of the game.
The three Connecticut third-period tallies were part of a five-goal spurt the Huskies put together to nearly catch the Wolverines
The Huskies drew within two on second-period scores by two defensemen, sophomore Nick Schneider and freshman Brendan Olynik.
Schneider got the Huskies on the board first on the power play when Michigan freshman defenseman Chris Summers blocked a shot in front of Sauer and then watched as the puck dribbled into the empty corner of the net.
Sauer left Olynik just a small opening on the short side and the Husky defenseman banked the puck off Sauer’s shoulder to close scoring in the second period.
For the second straight night, Michigan had come out blazing early in the first period, jumping to a quick 3-0 lead after only six minutes.
At 1:37 of the period, junior forward Chad Kolarik walked out of the left corner, skated across the blue line and flipped a shot at the Connecticut net. Husky forward Joe Walchessen blocked goaltender Beau Erickson’s view of the shot and the puck fluttered into the top right corner of the net over the freshman goaltender’s shoulder.
Two minutes later, seniors T.J. Hensick and David Rohlfs hooked up to put the Wolverines up by two.
Hensick fired the puck from the left corner to the front of the Connecticut net. Rohlfs managed to tip the puck past Erickson even though his back was nearly completely turned away from the Huskie netminder.
Michigan sophomore defenseman Jack Johnson again used Huskie forward Walchessen as a screen skating down his off wing flipping the puck over Erickson’s left shoulder.
That prompted Marshall to make the goaltending change to Tomes, the second straight night in which Michigan forced an opponent into such a change in the first period.
Kolarik potted his second score of the night with two separate deflections off Tomes. The Wolverine right wing drilled his first of two shots from the right point deflecting off the side of Tomes’ mask into the right corner. From there, Kolarik chased down the rebound and whistled a shot from the corner again deflecting off Tomes. This time, though, it was Tomes’ skate that directed the puck into the net.
Andrew Cogliano and Hensick notched second-period goals to extend the Michigan lead to six before Connecticut started its furious comeback.
Michigan will spend the upcoming week prepping for an early-season series scheduled for next Thursday and Friday with fellow CCHA power Miami. The games were moved forward from the usual Friday/Saturday to avoid a conflict with a late-afternoon football game also scheduled on the Ann Arbor campus that day.
The Huskies head back to Storrs next weekend to open their home schedule with a pair of games against Army.
Four Wolverine freshmen — forward Brian Lebler, defensemen Steve Kampfer and Chris Summers, and goaltender Steve Jakiel — all logged their first regular-season minutes in Friday night’s contest against Alabama-Huntsville. Lebler and Kampfer both picked up their first career goals in the game.
Morgan Ward, Michigan fifth-year senior walk-on forward, posted his first point as a Wolverine in the Alabama-Huntsville game, assisting on defenseman Jack Johnson’s late third period goal.
Connecticut senior forward and captain Matt Scherer picked right back up where he left off last season when he scored the Huskies lone goal against Bowling Green on Friday night. Scherer, a 15-goal scorer in his junior year, has posted double-digit goal totals in his previous three campaigns with Connecticut.
Wolverine Johnson’s career-high +5 rating on Friday against Alabama-Huntsville was the first time a Michigan player had achieved that mark since Andy Hilbert on January 23, 2001 against Notre Dame.
The Michigan/Connecticut matchup was the first time in history that the two programs faced off.