DETROIT — For the Northern Michigan Wildcats, it was lucky number seven. In their seventh trip to the CCHA Championship at Joe Louis Arena in the last eight years, they finally advanced to the CCHA championship game with Greger Hanson’s overtime goal against Ferris State.
Hanson’s goal, giving the Wildcats a 5-4 victory, came just 1:07 into the overtime period.
“I saw an opportunity. I saw guys going to change and I think I caught them flat-footed,” said Hanson. “I went to the middle and they thought I would drive wide, and I took a shot at the blocker side and it went in.”
Going into overtime, Hanson only had only one thing on his mind: “It only takes one shot to end the game.”
Prior to overtime, the first CCHA semifinal of the night was a back-and-forth affair with both teams having their share of chances.
Ferris State opened the scoring late in the first period after a shot by Jordie Johnston went off the mask of Brian Stewart and into the slot. Todd Pococke picked up the loose puck and slid it past Stewart, who appeared momentarily stunned by the shot off his mask.
The second period was dominated by Northern Michigan’s three goals in 1:02, starting at the 11 minute mark of the frame. The effort set the CCHA tournament record for the fastest three goals, easily beating the past record of 2:27 posted by Michigan State in the first round of the 2003 event.
Ray Kaunisto tied the game at 1 after getting his own rebound following a wraparound attempt. Kaunisto’s second try sailed through the five hole of Ferris State goalie Pat Nagle.
Just 41 seconds later, Mark Olver led Andrew Cherniwchan with a perfect pass to split the Ferris State defense. Cherniwchan made the most of his breakaway, again sliding the puck through Nagle’s five hole.
Then, 21 seconds after Cherniwchan put the Wildcats up 2-1, Kaunisto lit the lamp for his second of the night with a hard wrist shot from the high slot.
Following the Wildcats’ three goals in 1:02, Ferris State took a timeout to regroup.
“We just had to regain some composure and get back on track,” said Ferris State defenseman Matt Case. “We had a communications breakdown and some guys missing assignments.”
After regrouping, Ferris State took back some momentum as the second period wound down. Cody Chupp cut the Wildcats lead to one with 2:31 left in the frame after he stole the puck as Northern Michigan tried to clear its zone. Chupp drove hard to the net, going around it and putting a turnaround wrist shot in the net after Stewart pulled off the post.
Heading into the third period, the game could have gone either way. Midway through the frame, Tyler Gron appeared to lock up the Northern Michigan win when he scored after another breakdown by the Bulldogs defense left him wide open on the doorstep for a pass from Kaunisto.
But Ferris State wasn’t done yet. They struck with a pair of goals that came just 1:01 apart to tie the game. Mike Embach put some wind back into the Bulldogs’ sails with a fairly innocent wrist shot that beat Stewart high on the glove side. At 14:07, Zach Redmond slowed up an odd-man rush just enough for a trailing Matthew Kirzinger to get open and bury Redmond’s pass.
That set up overtime and Hanson’s heroics. Despite reaching Joe Louis Arena for a seventh time in his eight years at Northern Michigan, it will be Walt Kyle’s first time coaching in the championship game.
“I’d like to have the game named after me, but I don’t want to play in it again,” Kyle said when asked about coaching in the championship game versus the consolation game he’s coached in six times.
Northern Michigan (20-11-8) will play the winner of the second CCHA semifinal between Michigan and Miami, while Ferris State (21-12-6) will play the loser in the consolation game. It marks the first time the Wildcats have advanced to the CCHA final since 1999 when they did it under Rick Comley.