WOW, what a game!!!! Two schools with storied teams who currently possess some of college hockey’s most talented players hooked up for an awesome Saturday night tilt at the always raucous Yost Arena in Ann Anbor as Michigan played host to Minnesota in the 2nd and final night of the annual College Hockey Showcase. This was indeed a showcase that had just about everything. Both teams came out all fired up. This game was definitely among college hockey’s finest in terms of entertainment and talent level. If there was any hype prior to this game, it more than lived up to it.
Minnesota got the physical play going early and often, meanwhile Michigan utilised their deadly speed early on and seemed to never let up. While this game was intense and high-flying, it was also plagued with numerous turnovers and some sloppy passing by both teams.
The Gophers would draw first blood at the 7:45 mark. It all began with an intercept by Gophers defenceman junior Keith Ballard (COL) at his own blueline. Ballard then makes a terrific transitional pass over to an open Troy Riddle (STL) who’s going into the Michigan zone on a 2-on1 with sophomore Gino Guyer (DAL). Riddle waits for Guyer to get into position before sliding the puck over to Guyer. Guyer then proceeds to tip-in the puck past Michigan freshman netminder, Alvaro Montoya for the score. Riddle and Ballard would be credited with the assists. The game featured many excellent matchups including the one between Michigan junior forward Jason Ryznar (NJ) and Minnesota’s Ballard. At the 8:49 mark both would be assessed roughing calls with Balalrd getting the extra two. At the 12:24 mark, Wolverines freshman Mike Brown, who had just an excellent night all-around, would be called for a hook, putting the Gophers on the power play. However, the Wolverines speed and hustle would manifest itself eventually and at the 13:47 mark, it would result in a goal. It all began with a misplay of the puck along the sideboards by Ballard. Sophomore Brandon Kaleniecki would retrieve the loose puck from just above the right faceoff circle, then spins and moves toward the blueline where he flings the puck at the Gophers net that goes in top shelf over Gophers netminder freshman Kellen Briggs to tie the score. On the replay, the puck looked as though it might have hit Gophers freshman defenceman Michael Vannelli (ATL), who was trying to fend off an attacking Wolverine player, prior to going in. Nonetheless, Kaleniecki’s short-handed tally did count and evened up the score 1-1. Later in the period at the 17:19 mark, Wolverines junior defenceman Brandon Rogers (ANA) would make a terrific heads up play that would lead to another Michigan goal. It began with a turnover behind the Gophers net by Gophers defenceman junior Judd Stevens, who was making a poor attempt to shoot the puck along the boards. An alert Rogers then makes a nice pick-off from near the sideboards then cuts in and fires a nice backhander over Briggs’ shoulder on the glove side, putting Michigan ahead 2-1. The first half of the period was dominated by the Gophers, while the Wolverines dominated in the second half of the period.
The second period saw the physical play really pick up by both teams. Another nice battle ensued between Wolverines junior Eric Nystrom (CGY) and Gophers defenceman sophomore Chris Harrington. The story early on the period was the Wolverines’ turnovers and inability to pressure/attack the opposing puck-carrier along with the Gophers’ inability to win faceoffs and make successful tape to tape passes. At the 6:34 mark, Kaleniecki would be called for a questionable charge on Ballard. Questionable because it looked to be a clean hit and didn’t seem to faze Ballard much. So the Michigan Power Play would go to work, but nothing would come of it. With the amount turnovers that were made by both teams, several excellent scoring chances ensued, but both netminders would stand tall to keep the game at 2-1. At the 18:52 mark, the Gophers defenceman Harrington would be called for a hold, putting the Wolverines on the power play yet again. However, the Gophers would answer the Wolverines’ short-handed tally at the 19:10 mark. It began with a turnover in the Minnesota zone by Wolverines sophomore Andrew Ebbetts. He turns the puck over to Guyer who then dishes it off to his linemate Riddle. Both Guyer and Riddle are moving into the Wolverines zone 2-on-2. Riddle then makes a terrfic move to get around Wolverines defenceman junior Nick Martens. Martens would make the crucial mistake of playing the puck rather than his man and ends up getting beaten by Riddle. Riddle then would move in Montoya and shoots the puck into the net thru the five-hole. Guyer would be credited with the lone assist on Riddle’s short-handed tally.
The elation of Riddle’s short-handed, game-tying tally would be short lived. Just nine seconds after Riddle’s goal, came a very scary moment for the Wolverines and their faithful as junior Eric Nystrom would be the recipient of a brutal check from the behind by Gophers defenceman Keith Ballard. Nystrom was playing the puck along the boards and was in a vulnerable position when he is nailed from behind by Ballard. Nystrom would go head first into the boards and would lie on the ice for several seconds. He would be able to skate back to the Michigan bench albeit a bit dazed. He would return later in the game. Ballard was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Much to the dismay of the Wolverine faithful, Ballard was not assessed a game disqualification, which would have given Ballard an automatic one-game suspension. As a result of all of this, Michigan would have an extended 5-on-3 and a very long power play to work with that would extend into the first few minutes of the final stanza.
The final period started with the Gophers short-handed and without the services of their top defenceman for the remainder of the game. For the Gophers, this was gut-check time and it would also be the turning point of the game. The Gophers penalty kill went to work. Sophomore P.J. Atherton (TB) who didn’t see much ice time in the first two periods, got alot of work as a result of Ballard’s ejection and he wouldn’t disappoint. The Gophers would end up killing Michigan’s extended power play thanks to some excellent work in keeping the puck to the outside, not allowing the Wolverines to make a cross-ice or thru the middle passes and some key saves by Briggs when they did get the shots off. The moment would continue to carry the Gophers throughout the period despite the tenacity and persistence of the Michigan offensive attack. At the 13:02 mark, Wolverines junior Charlie Henderson and Gophers defenceman freshman Jake Taylor (NYR) would be called for matching roughing minors for a scrum that took place moments before along the boards. Taylor took a poke at Henderson. Henderson at 5’10” was try and tussle with the 6’4 Taylor in a size mismatch, but nothing would come of it except the penalties. At the 13:24 mark, the Gophers would take the lead for good. It begins with a nice faceoff win by junior Jake Fleming, who then tips the puck back to junior Barry Tallackson (NJ). Tallackson then passes off to Harrington, who is parked at the blueline. Harrington then makes a beautiful diagonal pass to Sertich who is situated just to the left of Montoya. Sertich then settles the puck down with his skates and then proceeds to wrist it past Montoya just inside the near post for the go-ahead goal. Harrington and Tallackson would be credited with the assists. The Wolverines however, would not go quietly. They continue to attack and attack often. Again, some poor Wolverines passing and some nice saves by Briggs would continue to keep the Wolverines off the board. With just over a minute left in regulation, Michigan head coach Red Berenson decides to call his timeout and pull Momtoya. With the extra attacker, the furious pace of Michigan to tie up the game would really pick up. At the 19:56 mark, Barry Tallackson would put the game away for the Gophers. Wolverines sophomore phenom Jeff Tambellini (LA) attempts to fire the puck deep into the Gophers zone when Tallackson makes a nice shot block. Tallackson then retrieves the puck and proceeds to skate in and score on the empty net. The game would end with the Gophers walking away with a 4-2 victory.
What won the game for Minnesota was some aggresive and physical play, their resilience to regroup and stay the course after losing Ballard in the 2nd period. Freshman Kellen Briggs wasn’t spectacular but he was clutch when he had to be. Troy Riddle (STL) and Gino Guyer (DAL) were arguably the best forwards for Minnesota. The two linemates created several great scoring oppotunities and accounted for two of Minnesota’s goals. However, the story of the night for the Gophers was their defense. Despite being ejected, Ballard was excellent early on in the game, including the awesome transitional pass to Guyer on Minnesota’ first goal. Freshman Jake Taylor was laying the hits often and at times brutally. He also managed to show off some of his shooting prowess, getting some nice shots off despite not scoring. Sophomore P.J. Atherton (TB) who basically was Ballard’s fill-in tonight was really making a case for himself for some more ice time. He was effective in not only the physical play but made some great and smart defensive plays, particularly during Michigan’s extended power play to help keep the Wolverines off the board.
The Wolverines had several players who were just terrific tonight. Despite being sacked with the loss, freshman Alvaro Montoya looked quite promising. What was impressive about Montoya more than anything else is his excellent ability of handling the puck. Unlike many NCAA netminders, Montoya is quite at home making plays with the puck and what’s more is that he likes that aspect of the game. Junior Eric Nystrom (CGY) was excellent in his physical play, even after being rammed into the boards by Ballard and his playmaking. He didn’t get on the board tonight, but it wasn’t due to a lack of trying. Defenceman Brandon Rogers (ANA) who possesses some nice hands, was also outstanding in his play. Freshman Mike Brown was a joy to watch. A real speedster who made several nice plays tonight definitely deserved a mention. But the player of the night for Michigan was sophomore phenom Jeff Tambellini (LA). Los Angeles Kings fans would’ve been delighted at watching him play tonight. With the exception of the play that led to Barry Tallackson’s empty-netter, he played an absolutely awesome game. While many know Tambellini as a speedy goal scorer with great hands, what was most impressive about him tonight was his less talked about defensive abilities. Two outstanding defensive plays he made tonight stood out. Both came in the 1st period. The first was when a Wolverine turnover created an odd-man rush going the opposite way. It was Minnesota’s Barry Tallackson (NJ) and Grant Potulny (OTT) versus Tambellini. Just as the Minnesota pair go to the Michigan net, Tambellini makes a smart and outstanding move by going down to take away the passing lane from Tallackson, who had puck possession. This forced Tallackson to take the shot himself. Montoya who was already square to Tallackson made the save. The other great defensive play came later in the period when Tambellini had the unenviable task of having to go one-on-one with the strong and hard to move Chris Harrington. He showed some strength of his own as he stayed with then outmuscled Harrington for not only the puck but also in taking away a possible scoring chance.
Overall, it was a very entertaining game. The pity is that these two teams do not meet more often during the course of the season, because they both make for some really fun hockey to watch, even with its problems.
[NOTE: Due to the recent HF problems it didn't allow me to put this all in one thread header because it said I exceeded the limit.]