DETROIT — On the strength of two-goal games by freshman Lindsay Sparks and senior Brian Lebler, Michigan held off a late rally by persistent Michigan Tech to win the consolation game of the Great Invitational Tournament, 5-3, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit late Wednesday afternoon.
The two goals by Sparks were the first of his career and proved be a tonic for the Wolverines’ struggling offense.
“I’ve been battling all year for that first goal,” offered Sparks. “It’s nice to win that second game (of the tournament). It’s really good for the team. I’m pretty happy getting both the first and the second goal. It’s a good feeling for everyone.”
Both Michigan Tech and Michigan suffered disappointing performances in their opening GLI tournament games. The Huskies ran into a Michigan State offensive buzz saw, losing 10-1 to the Spartans. Michigan outshot and out-chanced RPI by a wide margin, but failed to convert enough of those chances in a 4-3 loss to the Engineers.
Goaltending had been an issue for the Wolverines and the Huskies in the first round of the tourney. Both teams saw improved netminding on Wednesday..
Michigan’s Bryan Hogan, who was pulled after two periods Tuesday night, made a couple of key saves in the game’s final minutes, despite only seeing sporadic action during the bulk of the game.
Michigan Tech goaltender John Robinson, himself a mid-game replacement in the tourney’s opener, allowed four goals, but kept his Huskies’ teammates in the game with 39 saves.
“It’s a tough game to play,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson of his team’s appearance in the consolation match. “Your goal is to play in the championship game.
“We got through the game. We did some good things and some not-so-good things. They know they played well last night and didn’t have much to show for it. They wanted to come back and have a big game tonight. To walk out of here with two losses would be tough for Michigan.”
“Last night was a tough one for us,” said Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell. “Tonight, we came out and battled hard. We had good energy. I thought we competed hard, worked hard. We got the game down to a bounce here or there.”
Wolverine Matt Rust’s pretty pass to Sparks provided the only goal of the first period.
At 15:22, Rust spotted his freshman linemate breaking toward the net and feathered a saucer pass over a defender’s stick to Sparks. Sparks one-timed the pass by Robinson for the game’s first score and his career-first goal.
Although Michigan outscored the Huskies 2-1 in the middle stanza, the big story of the period was a five minute time frame when Michigan took four straight minor penalties and played a substantial amount of that time two-men short. Lebler and Rust scored for the Wolverines, sandwiched around a Michigan Tech power-play goal resulting from their extended power play.
On the power play at 2:50, Lebler lifted a shot from the right point that eluded Robinson putting the Wolverines up by two.
Then, Michigan’s parade of penalties then started.
Between 6:43 and 11:51, the Wolverines played in different states of man-disadvantages, most of it two-men short. In succession, Michigan defensemen Chris Summers, Chad Langlais, Tristin Llewellyn and Steve Kampfer all were whistled off the ice for individual minor penalties.
When the power play and penalty killing dust finally cleared, the only goal the Huskies scored was on a passing play eerily similar to the Wolverines’ first goal. Brett Olson converted Deron Cousens’ cross-ice pass to pull the Huskies within one goal at 10:12.
Late in the second period, Michigan capitalized on a power play of their own. Off a mad scramble with bodies flying everywhere, Rust managed to wedge the puck between Robinson and a Huskies’ defender from a nearly impossible angle at 17:18, giving the Wolverines a 3-1 lead after two periods.
The Huskies had not given up the fight. Early in the third period at 3:08, Eric Kattelus roofed a shot form a sharp angle, pulling Michigan Tech right back into fray, trailing 3-2.
Sparks responded with his second goal of the game at 9:26, taking a Lebler rebound and beating Robinson from the slot.
Jordan Baker replied for the Huskies just under three minutes later at 12:22 keeping the pressure on Hogan and Michigan.
Lebler’s empty netter finally clinched the game for the Wolverines with only 11 seconds left.