DETROIT — Michigan and Notre Dame were both in the last place they wanted to be Saturday afternoon, the third place game of the CCHA playoff championships at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The two top seeds in the tourney had suffered embarrassingly lopsided defeats in the Friday semifinals to land themselves in the preliminary game on CCHA “finals night.”
Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick literally stole the show in a 4-2 Wolverines victory, redeeming himself from a less-than-stellar semifinal performance against Western Michigan on Friday.
Hunwick stopped 42 of Notre Dame’s 44 shots, his career high for saves posted in regulation time.
“I was definitely motivated to come back and have a good game today,” said Hunwick. “We’re in the tournament next week and you don’t want to go in lacking confidence, so I thought today was a big day.”
Both coaches were decidedly more pleased than they had been with their teams’ performances 24 hours earlier.
“Late in the game, Shawn Hunwick was the difference,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Coming off last night’s game, we weren’t very happy with the result and the way we played. I thought we started the game much better tonight, maybe more desperate.
“We were playing another team that was upset about their game yesterday and I thought the first half of the game was a tough game.”
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson was surprisingly upbeat after two losses in two nights.
“I was very pleased with our team’s effort tonight,” said Jackson. “I thought we played a much more complete game. I thought we played well with the puck and without the puck. For the most part, I was very pleased with our effort. It was just a matter of their goaltending outperforming ours.”
Although Notre Dame opened the scoring early in the first period with an odd goal, Michigan countered in staccato fashion late in the period with a two-goal burst to lead, 2-1, after 20 minues.
Hunwick, who struggled mightily in Friday’s semifinal loss to Western Michigan, attempted to clear a loose puck around the corner boards out of danger. Instead of following the curvature of the boards, the puck ricocheted off a referee’s helmet straight back in Hunwick’s direction. Riley Sheahan, cruising through the low slot banged the rebounding puck past Hunwick at 4:34
“When they scored that first one, I shot the puck off the ref’s helmet and I thought, here we go again,” Hunwick said. “Last night, I don’t think I played too bad, a couple of bounces, bad rebounds.”
Notre Dame netminder Steven Summerhays held Michigan at bay until a 15-second blitz late in the period.
Only 18 seconds into a power play, Wolverine Chris Brown found Louie Caporusso breaking down left wing. Caporusso took Brown’s pass, skated in on Summerhays and picked a hole on the short side under the Notre Dame netminder’s arm to find the back of the net.
Caporusso wasn’t through.
Carl Hagelin was the recipient of Caporusso’s repayment of the favor of an assist. Hagelin blocked a clearing pass just inside the Fighting Irish zone that bounced to Caporusso, who fed the puck right back to Hagelin. The Wolverines captain found an opening high over Summerhays’ glove only 15 seconds after Caporusso’s original tally.
Ironically, the 15-second gap between Michigan goals marked the third time this season the Wolverines had scored goals 15 seconds apart.
Michigan extended their lead to 3-1 at 4:37 of the third period. The source of the goal was one of the least likely suspects.
Jeff Rohrkemper, who Berenson had chosen to dress for the game after being a healthy scratch in the semifinal, did the damage.
Wolverines defenseman Mac Bennett managed a shot from the right point on Summerhays, who failed to secure the puck. Rohrkemper swatted at the loose puck as he skated by Summerhays and just got enough rubber to slide the puck into the net.
“You don’t know if someone’s going to score a goal,” said Berenson of inserting Rohrkemper into the lineup. “Jeff Rohrkemper’s only played in seven or eight games this year. He played okay when he played. It may have been a lucky goal, but an important one.”
The Fighting Irish weren’t quite finished yet, though.
With the clock winding down in the third period, T.J. Tynan tenaciously battled three Wolverines in front of Hunwick and, on his third try, finally drew Notre Dame within one goal at 18:23 of the final period.
After Scooter Vaughan’s empty-net goal was waved off due to an official’s quick whistle, Luke Glendening finished the Wolverines’ task with a second, official empty-netter with only 4.3 ticks left on the clock.
Both Michigan’s and Notre Dame’s attention turns now to the selection process for the NCAA tournament and the decision on where, and against whom, each will play their NCAA Regional first round games.
Interview with Notre Dame’s Riley Sheahan
Interview with Michigan’s Louis Caporusso