ALBANY, N.Y. — When all was said and done, the third-seeded Clarkson Golden Knights were simply overtired and overmatched against top-ranked Michigan.
The Wolverines hung tough early and never let off the gas, exhausting Clarkson in a 2-0 regional final win in front of 4,301 at the Times Union Center.
“They’re the best defense we’ve seen this year,” said Clarkson senior Nick Dodge. “They’ve got size and they’ve got speed.”
“You get the first goal, you kill penalties and get saves, [you're all set],” said UM head coach Red Berenson.
Clarkson (22-13-4) produced the game’s first truly exciting series, peppering Billy Sauer of Michigan (33-5-4) from close quarters and picking a puck from his pads to generate yet another quality scoring chance when it seemed the moment had run its course.
Tempers ignited in the high-speed affair, including Golden Knight Phil Paquet’s interference-turned-facewash of Chad Kolarik at 13:01. After hauling the senior down to the right of the Clarkson net, Paquet reacted to a few taunting words with a glove to Kolarik’s cage. Referee Tim Benedetto didn’t think much of either of the players’ histrionics, and matched their calls after the initial penalty.
Michigan executed on the ensuing power-play, as freshman Aaron Palushaj pulled a sucker-move on Clarkson goalie David Leggio.
Cutting across the slot on a left-to-right diagonal, Palushaj drew Leggio out and away from his net to cut down a rapidly diminishing angle. The winger swiftly hooked around the back of the net and stuck the wraparound into the vacant space inside the iron.
“The first goal was an important goal, obviously,” said Berenson. “You’re hoping you can get a power-play goal, and these games come down to power plays and special teams … and we got that goal.”
The period ended square at 10 in shots. While Clarkson head coach George Roll wouldn’t be happy with Paquet’s indiscretions, Wolverine sophomore Steve Kampfer took a pair of minors as well, one of which carried over into the second session.
“Maybe our emotions got the best of us there,” mused Dodge of the Knights’ nine penalties on the night.
“I thought we had some good chances in the first,” said Roll. “Limiting them to 14 shots in two periods” was tremendous, he assessed.
As the game approached its halfway point, Clarkson’s play took a turn toward Destination Disheveled. While Michigan didn’t mount any extraordinary attacks, the Green and Gold looked unfocused and tired. Passes were sent long or soft, and those that found the mark were often received poorly. With no thrust to speak of, the Wolverines fatigued the Knights’ defense into numerous icings.
With 5:38 to go, Dodge escaped the box and was in line for a long bank-pass. Tristin Llewellyn took a rookie hooking minor, however, keeping Clarkson moving forward. The Knights couldn’t make any more of their sixth advantage than they could their first five, but the side looked to have regained the cohesion that it lacked earlier in the frame.
With one minute to play, Kolarik got ahead of ‘Tech’s d-corps and pushed hard for the high backhand, but didn’t get enough lift or extension to hop Leggio’s right kick. Only moments later, Hobey Baker finalist Kevin Porter recovered a poorly played puck on the left wing in the Clarkson end.
Michigan’s leading scorer busted in on Leggio with Kolarik unmarked on the right wing, but 2007′s Dryden Award winner as ECAC Hockey’s top goaltender stopped Kolarik’s one-timer with a butterfly slide.
“If you’d told me that we’d allow one power-play goal against [St. Cloud and Michigan] this weekend, I’d have taken it,” said Roll. “Going into the third period down 1-0 to the No. 1-ranked team in the country … I’d take that [too].”
The senior netminder’s luck ran out only 26 seconds into the third. Kolarik fed Porter across the top of the crease, whereupon he calmly deposited the biscuit through Leggio’s exposed five-hole.
“The second goal was a backbreaker,” judged Berenson. “Kevin has set the bar for this team, and Chad is hanging onto it, making sure that [Kevin] holds it high.”
With Brandon DeFazio already incarcerated for an interference minor, Chris D’Alvise took a slash at 11:31 that put the Wolverines on a 1:13 five-on-three. Up against it, the Knights killed both penalties to earn a stay of execution.
Roll pulled Leggio to make it a six-on-four with 2:06 to go. The Knights hit two posts and certainly made Sauer work for his shutout … but when the final horn sounded, Clarkson was left staring at a zero for the first time since last year’s regional, where Massachusetts beat the Knights in overtime in Rochester 1-0.
Sauer, Porter, Kolarik and defenseman Mark Mitera all earned spots on the East Regional All-Tournament Team, with Porter taking Most Outstanding Player honors. Forward Shea Guthrie and blueliner Grant Clitsome filled out the roster for Clarkson.
Michigan advances to the Frozen Four for the 23rd time, seeking its 10th national title — both NCAA-bests. The victory was the program’s 45th all-time, 25 of which have come under Berenson. The Wolverines last appeared in the Frozen Four in 2003, losing to Minnesota 3-2 in overtime.