ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Northern Michigan sophomore goaltender Brian Stewart blocked 41 Michigan shots and staved off an overtime Wolverine power play blitz in a 3-3 standoff at Yost Ice Arena Friday night.
In a game dominated by special teams play, Michigan fittingly circled the Wildcat net on a power play for the final 1:56 of the overtime period but couldn’t find a solution to Stewart’s heroics in net.
“Stewart was outstanding,” said Northern Michigan Head Coach Walt Kyle. “Stewart’s been very good. Early in the year, we struggled in goal, but he’s been great for the bulk of the year. We will go as he goes.”
With the game knotted at 2-2 heading into the final period, Michigan appeared to have gained the upper hand with a power play goal on Kevin Porter’s slapshot from the center of the blue line at 7:44.
Northern Michigan countered four minutes later with Mark Olver capitalizing on a two-man advantage to fire a shot from the high slot between Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer’s pads at 11:40 of the final period, the game’s final tally.
“I thought we were really, really resilient,” said Kyle. “The calls were going their way and we had to kill a ton of penalties. There’s no quit in this team. They play hard all the time.”
“It was important, for sure,” said Kyle of the Wildcat special teams play. “They’re (Michigan) just a very good, very dangerous team. You don’t want it to be a special teams game.”
“You have to give Northern Michigan credit because they kept us off balance,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “It could have been 2-0 or 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. The game comes down to mistakes and penalties.”
“We’re disappointed, absolutely,” continued Berenson. “This is a home game against a team you’re ahead of in the standings and you have to find a way to win that game.”
The offensive slumber imparted to the Wolverines the previous weekend by Michigan State carried through into the first period of the contest against Northern Michigan.
Outshot 14-9, the Wildcats found pay dirt mid-period to take a 1-0 lead in the opening frame.
Wolverine defenseman Mark Mitera’s giveaway behind the Michigan net allowed Wildcat Jared Brown the chance to flip a pass to the front of the net where linemate Gregor Hanson buried his fifth goal of the season at 10:18.
Michigan awakened in the second period to jump past Northern Michigan, 2-1, only to have another defensive giveaway cost them the short-lived lead.
At 9:22 of the second stanza, Wolverine Louie Caporusso dropped a pass to Travis Turnbull at the top of the circle to Stewart’s left. Turnbull blistered a drive over Stewart’s shoulder high into the top right corner of the net.
Michigan then used a power play opportunity to get their first lead of the game. Kevin Porter’s shot from his off wing dropped at the feet of Stewart. Wolverine freshman Max Pacioretty took two jabs at the loose puck, the second slithering underneath Stewart at 16:09.
Chad Langlais’ giveaway at his own blue line on the power play sent Wildcat penalty killer Matt Butcher on a sprint alone to the Wolverine goal where he found the open corner over Sauer’s stick at 17:53.
“This time of the year every point counts,” said Kyle of the significance of the outcome. “We’re trying to get home ice in the playoffs.”
The single point in the standings earned by the Wolverines moved them to within two points of CCHA front runner Miami with one game in hand.
Michigan (22-3-2, 15-2-2 CCHA) and Northern Michigan (10-15-2, 7-11-1 CCHA) renew the battle Saturday night at Yost with the Wolverines trying to translate that game in hand into a tie for the top spot in the conference.
“The biggest game of our season is tomorrow night,” said Wolverine freshman forward Max Pacioretty of the rematch. “If we come out playing hard the first five minutes, I think we will get right back into our game.