‘Opportunistic’ Michigan earns first Frozen Four spot since 2011 with win over Boston University

1
7
Michigan’s Sam Piazza, left, and Joseph Cecconi celebrate a victory over Boston University (photo: Melissa Wade).

WORCESTER, Mass. — It’s great to be good and nice to be lucky. When you’re both, you’re probably going to win.

Michigan, underdogs in many people’s eyes, including their own, wasn’t picture perfect but got what coach Mel Pearson admitted was a dose of puck luck in Sunday’s Northeast Regional final to head to the Frozen Four.

The Wolverines scored the game’s final three goals to beat Boston University 6-3 for a spot in St. Paul.

Michigan will face Big Ten foe Notre Dame on April 5 for the right to play for a national title.

“I can’t tell you we played the best game; I can’t tell you we were the better team tonight,” said Pearson, who will head to the Frozen Four with Michigan for the 12th time, the first as head coach. “We got lucky. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but we were good and lucky.”

The biggest punch of luck came on the game-winning goal. After BU rallied from two goals down on goals from Patrick Curry and Drew Melanson, Jake Slaker took advantage of a blown tire by a Terriers defenseman, fired a shot off a second defender’s shin pad and beat Jake Oettinger (16 saves) to put Michigan ahead with 13:33 left.

Nicholas Boka’s first goal of the season at 16:18 and an empty-netter by Nick Pastujov with 1:42 remaining allowed the Wolverines to start the celebration.

Nothing about Sunday’s win came easily for Michigan, which spent the majority of the game’s final 38 minutes trying to defend. But the trio of third-period goals all came in opportunistic moments, even if they didn’t always feel comfortable for Pearson on the bench.

“You need good players who can take advantage of opportunities,” said Pearson. “Nick Boka (a defenseman) hasn’t had a goal all year. I don’t know what the hell he’s doing in a one-goal hockey game jumping up into the play. But he saw a chance; he saw an opening.

“You talk about an opportunistic time. Things went in for us tonight. Is it destiny? What is that? You have to be ready and you have to play and we were very fortunate. The hockey gods were watching out for us.”

Michigan won its two games this weekend against teams playing in their backyard in Northeastern and Boston University. Adding in top-seeded Cornell, the Wolverines were the least-talked-about club in the region, which piled onto an underdog feeling this team has had since being picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten at the start of the season.

“We’ve been the underdogs all season long,” said Michigan senior Tony Calderone. “We knew what we were up against, but it says a lot about the guys in our room.”

“I’m going to add one thing,” said Calderone’s teammate Slaker referring to being underdogs. “We loved it.”

Michigan jumped out to a 2-1 lead through one period on goals by Quinn Hughes and Calderone sandwiched around a snipe tally by BU’s Jordan Greenway.

The Wolverines’ third goal, though, felt like a back breaker. Josh Norris fired a shot wide that hit the end boards, bounced toward the net and off Oettinger’s leg and was easily poked home by Brendan Warren.

To BU’s credit, that bad bounce didn’t translate to quit. Curry scored on a wraparound at 11:08 of the third and Melanson picked an errant pass, walked in on goal and beat Hayden Lavigne (24 saves) with a nifty move to tie things with 16:30 to play.

“We started playing better when we got down 3-1,” said BU coach David Quinn. “We looked nervous early. As the game went on, we got better. We found our rhythm.

“We made it 3-3 and you could feel the energy on the bench. Unfortunately, one goes off a shin pad and is in the net.”

The victory advanced Michigan to the Frozen Four for the 25th time but the first since 2011, the last time the Frozen Four was held in St. Paul.

Their semifinal opponent is Notre Dame, a team Michigan has played four times already, splitting the season series.

Once again, the Wolverines will be underdogs but that won’t deter this club in the least.

“I like the matchup, this wins the series. We’re two-all,” Pearson said of their semifinal date with the Irish. “We’ve had four real close games. It’s a toss-up in this game, but we’re the underdog.

“[Notre Dame] is expected to be there. They’re the No. 1 seed [in the East Region]. So it fits right into what we want.”