Slow-starting Michigan hockey team loses 3-2 to Western Michigan in CCHA championship
Updated 11:30 p.m.
DETROIT -- As Friday turned to Saturday at Joe Louis Arena, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson predicted his team would be tired in Saturday night's CCHA tournament championship game.
The Wolverines had just defeated Bowling Green, 3-2 in double overtime, while Western Michigan rested comfortably in its hotel.
Whether or not fatigue played a factor in Western's 3-2 win at Joe Louis Arena is debatable. That the Broncos were the better team for the majority of the championship game was not.
But, for the final 12 minutes, it was anybody's game.
Trailing 3-0 in the third period with a comeback looking very unlikely, Michigan sophomore defenseman Kevin Clare scored a shorthanded goal to finally put the Wolverines on the board at the 8:01 mark of the third. It was Clare's first goal since Dec. 30 and Michigan's first shorthanded goal since Feb. 4.
Lee Moffie scored a power play goal six minutes later and it looked like Michigan might be able to force overtime for the fourth time this season at Joe Louis Arena.
But Western was able to hold off the late charge by Michigan and hold on for its first CCHA tournament title since 1986, before a single player on the Broncos' roster was born.
Western captain Ian Slater wasn't on the ice to help fend off the late Michigan charge. Given a five-minute misconduct penalty with 8:33 remaining in the game, Slater was sent to the locker room but he never made it. He nervously paced in the halls of Joe Louis, crying and nearly vomiting.
"I was all over the place," Slater said.
But Slater joined his teammates as they threw their gloves in the air and huddled around freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski as the final horn sounded. Slubowski made 27 saves in the win, and was named tournament MVP.
Berenson didn't think the overtime game the night before played a factor in the loss. He thought Slater's first period goal to give Western a 1-0 lead deflated his team more than the extra ice time.
"There’s nothing to demoralize a team like getting scored on and there’s nothing to jump start your enthusiasm like scoring, and you saw a little of both tonight," Berenson said. "I thought we came out hard and strong, the only thing that put us on our heels was the goals against."
It was Michigan's second loss in the championship game in four years.
The Wolverines' focus now shifts to the NCAA Tournament. A certain at-large team, they will find out their first-round opponent Sunday (noon, ESPNU), when the 16-team tournament field is announced.
Berenson said the weekend was another reminder that the difference between the so called "top" teams and "bottom" teams in the conference -- and in the country -- is miniscule.
"Let’s face it, we’re not that good. We’re not any better than anybody else, but I don’t’ think we’re worse than anyone else," Berenson said. "There’s not that much difference between the teams. Winning puts a lot of emphasis on 'that team must be better', and losing makes everybody feel that team must be worse. There’s not a big difference."
Michigan captain Luke Glendening said he hopes the Saturday loss was the last one of his career.
"That feeling of defeat, I don’t want that to happen again," Glendening said, recalling the two CCHA championship losses and the loss in the NCAA title game last year. "This is the third time for me losing in a championship game, so you definitely don’t want to be in that situation again."