With all the talk of Michigan’s young talent, featuring four of the top five NHL draft picks from last summer and the top six scorers all sophomores or younger, the Wolverines’ first goal of the Allentown regional final was scored, of course, by a senior .
Nolan Moyle gave UM the lead in the opening minute, then added a score with 1:23 remaining, and the Wolverines stayed focused on the Frozen Four in between; top-seeded Michigan defeated No. 2-seed Quinnipiac, 7-4, on Sunday to continue its pursuit of an NCAA tournament title.
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The Wolverines advance to the Frozen Four, where they’ll face Loveland regional champ Denver (29-9-1) at 5 pm April 7 in Boston. The winner of that game will face Albany region champion Minnesota State or Worcester region champion Minnesota, who’ll play at approximately 8:30 pm that night, on April 9.
It’s the 26th Frozen Four appearance for the Wolverines, who last made it in 2018. That season, they lost in the national semifinals, 4-3, to Notre Dame. Michael Pastujov, then a freshman, scored the tying goal in the third period, only to watch the Irish win it in the final seconds of regulation. Michigan’s most recent title came in 1998, also in Boston, with six NHL draft picks on the roster. Just one, defenseman Mike Van Ryn, was a first-rounder. (The most successful NHL’er of the 1998 champs? Goalie Marty Turco, a 1994 fifth-rounder who played 543 NHL games.) It’s a far cry from this season’s NCAA-record seven first-rounders.
Michigan came out strong, crowding the offense zone and scoring 33 seconds in. With multiple Wolverines within a foot of the crease, Moyle found the rebound off a shot by sophomore defenseman Owen Power, who wound up with a team-high four assists, and the post.
It was a shocking start considering the credentials of Bobcats goalie Yaniv Perets, a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy) who finished the regular season No. 1 in the nation in goals-against average (0.96) and shutdowns (11). Perets gave up four goals for the first time all season on Friday night against St. Cloud State, but dominated the final minute as the Bobcats clung to a one-goal lead.
On Sunday, Perets quickly found his bearings. That included a sprawling stop with about nine minutes remaining, after the puck appeared to get behind him. A couple minutes later, Perets got a toe on Mackie Samoskevich’s shot off a breakaway. Perets’ counterpart down the ice, sophomore Erik Portillo, was in fine form as well. The 6-foor-6 Swede, the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament after stopping 90 of 95 shots over five games, blanked the Bobcats in the first with 14 saves.
The Wolverines picked up a second goal off another combo of young and old; freshman Luke Hughes, a Hobey Baker finalist and the No. 4 overall pick (New Jersey Devils) last summer, took the puck off the faceoff and sent it from the right circle toward the crease. It slid past a pair of Bobcats defenders, right to the stick of senior Jimmy Lambert, who tapped it home for a 2-0 Michigan lead with 5:24 remaining in the first.
The Wolverines added a third goal on the power play 6:06 into the second period. A series of quick passes got the puck low in the slot to Brendan Brisson (the No. 29 overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft), who dished it to Thomas Bordeleau on the back side. The sophomore forward then slammed the puck past a distracted Perets to make it a three-goal game.
Just before the end of the second period, Michigan showed some special teams wizardry. Killing off a tripping penalty on Brisson with 1:19 left, senior Nick Blankenburg started a short-handed rush just seconds later as senior Garret Van Wyhe hustled to Perets’ back side. Blankenburg, the Wolverines’ captain, fired the puck to Van Wyhe, who slid it under a sprawling Perets to virtually lock up a trip to Boston just before the second intermission.
That was it for Perets, who was replaced to open the third period with Dylan St. Cyr. The Northville native, who is the son of star female goalie and Detroit Red Wings analyst Manon Rheaume, transferred to Quinnipiac from Notre Dame this offseason. As a senior last season in South Bend, he had a 2.44 GAA and .921 save percentage. He was able to slow the Wolverines’ attack, but the Bobcats’ offense was still missing in action.
The change in net seemed to fire up the Bobcats, though. About five minutes into the third, Quinnipiac got on the board. Jayden Lee fired from the top of the zone, and the puck skimmed off Blankenburg’s skate, off the post and past Portillo.
Another Michigan native cut the Wolverines’ lead to two goals with just under 11 minutes remaining. Freshman Ethan Edwards, attempting to bring the puck up ice, turned it over to Ethan de Jong. The senior forward skated from the right circle and fired the puck to Wyatt Bongiovanni of Birmingham. The Bobcats’ captain, who also had an assist in Friday’s game, quickly fired it past Portillo on the back side to make it a two-goal game again.
Two minutes later, the lead grew even slimmer, as Ty Smilanic attempted to wrap around from behind the net. Portillo stopped his shot, but couldn’t get in front of Desi Burgart, who put it in to Portillo’s right side to make it a one-goal game.
But that was as close as the Bobcats could make it, especially after struggling on a power play with 7:43 remaining. An equipment issue for Portillo halted the action for nearly three minutes and gave the Wolverines a chance to catch their breath for the final push.
With about four minutes to go, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold pulled St. Cyr for an extra attacker. It was a disastrous choice, as Pastujov scored an empty-netter seconds later, for what would turn out to be the game-winner, essentially icing the Wolverines’ return to the Frozen Four. Moyle added his second goal with 83 seconds left, Brisson added another 48 seconds later and Quinnipiac got one final score with 22 seconds remaining.
Contact Ryan Ford at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.