DETROIT — Derek Janzen moved from third goaltender to game-saver in just 30 minutes of hockey Saturday night in Northern Michigan’s 2-1 CCHA Championship third-place game win over Notre Dame at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The sophomore Wildcats’ netminder shut out Notre Dame in the game’s second half, turning away 25 Fighting Irish shots, including many in the frenzied final couple of minutes as ND pulled goaltender Jordan Pearce and pressed to tie the score.
Preceeded by fellow Wildcats’ back-up goaltender Reid Ellingson, who tended goal for NMU during the first half of the contest, Janzen’s stellar performance provided the stage for his teammates to surge to a two-goal comeback from the 1-0 deficit they carried into the third period.
NMU coach Walt Kyle was rewarded by the goaltending duo for taking the opportunity to give the pair some playoff experience in a game that the Wildcats knew had no bearing on their final season standing.
“We wanted to get some guys some experience,” said Kyle of his decision to go with Janzen and Ellingson in goal. “We wanted them to feel part of the team. Both these guys deserve a ton of credit. Next year is going to be really interesting.”
Janzen’s entry into the game near the halfway mark meant taking over the duties without the usual warm-up.
“I think any goalie would tell you he wants to start the game,” Janzen said. “Watching Reid play helped me feel confident.”
That confidence was a key factor in his 19 third-period saves, many coming as the clock was winding down.
“It was pretty hectic, I guess,” said Janzen of the game’s final moments. “By that time, I was really into the game. Pucks just looked big to me.”
Both Kyle and his Notre Dame head coaching counterpart, Jeff Jackson, noted the difficulty of playing a game only 24 hours after both the squads had suffered tough late-game losses in the championship tournament semifinals.
“This was a tough game to get up for,” said Kyle. “We talked about turning the page.”
“It was your typical consolation game, not much emotion,” Jackson concurred. “Why we play these games, I’m not quite sure, but they tell me it’s for an advantage, so we’ll take it. The bottom line is, and I’m sure Walt will say the same thing, that we didn’t have the same emotion and intensity going into this game that we had going into our last three.”
That lack of emotion was apparent in the sluggish, scoreless first period.
Both teams exhibited a higher level of urgency in the second stanza, and Notre Dame turned an innocent-looking play into the second period’s only score. Hanson swept in off the right wing and slid a weak backhand under Ellingson at 7:32, just over two minutes before the Wildcats switched to Janzen in goal.
The Northern Michigan third-period comeback started only 1:15 into the stanza when Tim Hartung pounced on a loose puck and drilled a bullet past Pearce.
The game-winner came just over two minutes later at 3:31 on a play Pearce would undoubtedly like to do over. Matt Siddall caught Pearce napping, banging in a shot from the left side of the net as Pearce looked in the opposite direction for the puck.
“I am so proud of this team,” said Kyle of the season finale. “A couple things come to mind. We started out 1-8. We started out 0-7. It was tough. We had a lot of people jumping off the boat. These guys played Northern Michigan hockey. These guys recaptured the hearts of our fans.”
This was the last game of the season for the Wildcats, who end the year with a record of 20-20-4. The Irish (24-15-4) await word on whether they’ll play in the NCAA tournament.