BOSTON – It did not turn out to be the shootout many expected. It could not be decided for three periods.
But Michigan hockey’s chance to play for yet another national championship ended at the point where the Wolverines last won one, 24 years ago.
Carter Savoie put a rebound back from his own shot, which was originally saved by UM goalkeeper Erik Portillo with 5:07 left in overtime to give Denver a 3-2 victory Thursday night in the Frozen Four at TD Garden.
“I just told them a game will not define who they are as hockey players or people,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “There were a lot of expectations for this group, and they exceeded those expectations and then handled all that pressure so well.”
The No. 1 overall seeded Wolverines (31-10-1) sought to extend their record with a 10th NCAA title – they have not won a title since winning it all in Boston in 1998. Instead, they will watch Saturday night , as the Pioneers (30-9-1) face the winner of Thursday night’s second semifinal between Minnesota State and Minnesota for the title. Faceoff is at 20 on TD Center (ESPN).
It was a tough finish for a Michigan team that reached No. 1 in the USCHO poll early in the season and spent almost the entire season among the top 5. The Wolverines’ roster had seven NHL first-round draft picks, none of which scored a goal Thursday.
“It’s my 40th year in Division I hockey. I couldn’t be more proud of the young men I was able to coach this year,” Pearson said. “It’s the funniest thing I’ve had and I owe it to them all … Just because you’ll be drafted, you’re a high draft pick, nobody’s sprinkling magic dust on you and you’ll be this amazing player. You’re what they deserve. The guys kept up the work and they were driven. Just a great group of young men to be with. “
HISTORY LESSON:Michigan motivated by lessons from Wolverines ‘Frozen Four tours in the late’ 90s
THE FROZEN ENEMY:Michigan returns to the Frozen Four with a known enemy waiting: Denver
REGIONAL FINALS:Michigan took on the Frozen Four for the first time since 2018 with a 7-4 win vs. Quinnipiac
UM spent much of the game on defense as Denver controlled the pace through three periods. But Wolverines came out at the start of overtime and generated a couple of high percentage scoring chances. Pioneers goalkeeper Magnus Chrona continued to thwart, including kicking a break away at the pipe to his right near the middle of the 20-minute overtime and a 2nd-on-1 save on Michigan’s Luke Hughes with just over six minutes left.
Just before the final goal, the Wolverines looked to have an outburst. But Michigan players exceeded the puck in the Denver zone; it eventually found its way to Savoie in the fold for the unrestrained rebound from his first attempt.
Denver coach David Carle said the Wolverines’ misfortune – “It certainly creates some space,” he added – helped the Pioneers put the winner of the game from a corner by Hobey Baker Award finalist Bobby Brink, the nation’s leading goal scorer ( 1.44 points a match), which UM had kept pointless until that time.
“It was a really good hockey game,” Carle said. “I thought both teams checked really well. … I thought (Jerv) adapted well throughout the match, which made it harder for us. But I give our players a lot of honor to hold on to it and win even more. a one-goal hockey game. “
Portillo finished with 30 saves while Chrona stopped 19 for Denver.
Despite all the build-up of two of the country’s top-scoring teams that met in the national semifinals, the Pioneers and Wolverines avoided the offensive in three hard-hitting, defensive periods of old-fashioned hockey. Denver came out as the aggressor in the first period and played both physically and skillfully from the start. The Pioneers generated a couple of quality scoring chances close to and between the circles in the first 10 minutes, which either stopped Portillo, his defenders managed to pinch and prevent a tip-in opportunity, or Denver players went past the net.
That changed 11:22 inside the period when the Pioneers opened the scoring. A puck sprayed from a scrum over the ice to Denver defender Justin Lee for a low, sizzling slapshot through a clearing from the left point. Portillo kicked the shot away with his pads, and opponent center Cole Guttman zoomed in to get a rebound, but hissed as UM’s Matty Beniers closed in on him. The puck kept sliding untouched through the fold for another charge by Pioneer, and Brett Stapley buried his 17th goal of the season as Portillo and the Beniers collided as they tried to move back to the right.
Denver had a 6-0 lead after Stapley’s goal, with Wolverines’ best scoring chance until the time striker Mackie Samoskevich skated through the fold. But Lee disturbed and displaced the puck. The pioneers delivered strong checks throughout the period, and UM struggled to find an offensive flow, while also going offside to stop a few odd advantages.
“I think with every hockey game we get ups and downs in flows,” said senior left-winger Garrett Van WyheWhye. “Just staying cool was probably the biggest thing for us. When it comes down to it, I think we got started a little late. Mel harped on us all week that ‘it’s about the start, all about the start, everything about the start. ‘ So in that respect, I think we need to take responsibility. ”
The Wolverines had just four shots at the end of the first and went into the locker room after a goal, but they showed up in the second period, amplifying their intensity and turning it into better scoring chances. It included two shots from the blueline stopped by Chrona and another he caught as Michigan’s Johnny Beecher sent a backhand straight into the Denver goalie’s center.
That attacking mentality gave paw 4:03 in the second as Wolverines equalized the match 1-1. Right wing Nolan Moyle skated up the left side but lost the puck in front of Chrona. But Moyle kept working behind the net along the backboard and tipped it out front to center Jimmy Lambert, who went top shelf past Chrona for his sixth goal of the season. His score on his team’s fourth shot early in the second doubled UM’s shot yield from the first period.
But Denver recovered, and both teams exchanged possessions for the rest of the period, handing out hard checks along the way. Portillo kept the Pioneers’ nine shots off the net during the period, while Denver’s defense squeezed down and allowed just one more UM shot the rest of the way – and none in the final 8:45 – to go into the third period tied at . 1-1.
“He’s an incredible goalkeeper, and an incredible guy to have on the team,” senior captain and defender Nick Blankenburg said of Portillo. “He’s a great competitor. He will do anything to win.”
Michigan entered the Frozen Four with the nation’s third-best offensive with 4.02 goals per game. match, while Denver ranked first among 60 Division I teams with 4.28. Wolverines ranked ninth in the scoring defense with 2.22 allowed goals, with the Pioneers 13th with 2.31.
“Our angling, our puck pressure was really good,” Carle said. “And when people were beaten, there was another layer to help many times. And our sticks were amazing. And when that person was beaten, Magnus was there to save. So it’s not easy to keep (Michigan).”
The Pioneers continued to attack early in the third, with Portillo hitting a loose puck in the fold surrounded by bodies after the first save. But Denver took a 2-1 lead shortly after when right-winger Cameron Wright snuck into the fold and deflected a wrist shot from defender Mike Benning over Portillo’s right shoulder. Wright’s tip somehow escaped his teammate Carter Mazur, a native Jackson who managed to jump off the road while showing Portillo’s vision 5:36 inside the period.
But Michigan was not finished. Left wing Mark Estapa dove in front and blocked a shot from Denver, senior right wing Michael Pastujov chased the puck down and zipped right wing up. Pastujov caught sight of Thomas Bordeleau, who cut up the left side and slipped a pass through to the center in second place, who mixed his skates and sticks in the traffic and shot a shot in the top right corner to 2-2 with 10:51 left in it third. .
The Pioneers managed a couple more quality chances towards the end of regulation, but Portillo stopped them all to send the game into overtime. Denver nearly doubled Wolverines in shots through three periods, 26-14, and spent most of the game in UM’s defensive zone. But the Wolverines managed to generate enough of their own luck at both ends to retain their chance of advancing – though it eventually ended up with a return trip home to deal with yet another missed opportunity at another national title.
“It’s hard to put into words thinking about not putting that jersey on again,” Blankenburg said. “But very grateful for my time here, and I will remember it forever.”
Contact Chris Solari: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.