ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Before senior David Rohlfs was able to take the traditional lap around the Yost Arena ice on Michigan’s Senior Night, he took a less traditional route to score the winning goal in Michigan’s 3-1 victory over Western Michigan Saturday.
Rohlfs beat a pair of Bronco power play attackers and then flipped a backhand over Western Michigan goaltender Riley Gill while shorthanded for the game’s decisive goal and a 2-1 Wolverine edge at 5:29 of the third period.
“It was sort of a broken play,” said Rohlfs. “The puck was chipped off the boards and it hit one guy. I got the puck and Bill (Sauer) was telling us between periods to get the puck up on this guy (Gill). I got it up and it went in.”
“It felt unbelievable,” continued Rohlfs. “I was just waiting for the game to end so we could get the win. It’s a great feeling to go out like that. Everything was just phenomenal.”
“Senior Night a year ago was a long night for our seniors,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Tonight will be more enjoyable for all these guys. I guess it was fitting that a senior, David Rohlfs, would score the winning goal.”
Jack Johnson scored a first period goal and Chris Summers added an empty net marker for the Wolverines.
Freshman center Mark Letestu, continuing his outstanding rookie campaign, notched his 18th goal of the season for the Broncos only tally.
Although only called upon to face 20 shots while his teammates fired 45 at Gill, Michigan netminder Sauer made a key pair of saves late in the second period on a three-on-one Bronco break with the score knotted at 1-1 preventing the Broncos from taking a lead into the intermission.
“Billy Sauer may not have had a lot of shots, but he had maybe the toughest saves he’s had to make all year, and he made them,” said Berenson. “He had the three-on-one rush and then a couple of down low plays that he got to where they were all over us in a scramble. He battled. That’s what you want your goalie to do. He made a difference in the game. To win this game, somebody had to make a big save and he did it.”
“I hadn’t had many shots at that point,” said Sauer of the late second sequence. “I just kind of got an unlucky bounce on the one goal A save at that point is going to help your team a ton. I just threw my pad out and it hit it.”
Sauer acknowledged the importance of the win on Senior Night, adding that “our class knew how last year ended. We really wanted to get a win tonight. I think it was even more special being a close game and coming back in the third.”
After a scoreless first period, Michigan sent 25 shots at Gill in the second stanza and only solved him once while the Broncos managed to get the shorthanded marker by Sauer in their 10 shots during the period.
Johnson got Michigan on the board just 40 seconds into the period with a blast from the high slot on a feed from Kevin Porter.
Western Michigan replied shorthanded when Letestu outfought Johnson in the neutral zone for the puck setting up a two-on-one break. Letestu’s attempted cross-ice pass bounced off the Wolverine defender back onto his stick and he chopped the rebound past the outstretched right leg of Sauer at 8:38.
The victory was the Wolverines seventh in eight games in 2007 and enabled the Wolverines to maintain their hold on second place in the CCHA standings
The importance of the team’s improved defensive play wasn’t lost on Berenson.
“I think our team is honest,” said Berenson. “We can’t expect to give up four goals and expect to win night after night. We had a defensive attitude going into this game. Everyone tightened up and it was a good ‘experience’ game for us. As we look ahead, the games are going to get tighter and tighter.”
The Broncos (12-15-1, 9-12-1 CCHA) see their next action next weekend hosting Alaska for a two-game tilt. The Wolverines (21-9-0, 16-6-0 CCHA) travel to Bowling Green on Friday of the upcoming weekend and then head down !-94 to Joe Louis Arena Saturday night to take on Michigan State in the final regular season match between the two rivals.