"The best team doesn't always win."
That was Michigan head coach Red Berenson's succinct explanation of his team's 2-0 upset win over heavily favored North Dakota last night in Minnesota. The Wolverines got a first period goal from senior Ben Winnett (TOR), withstood 40 shots from UND and then added an empty net goal from another senior, Scooter Vaughan, to advance to Saturday's National Championship game.
The beauty of Red Berenson is that he doesn't sugar coat a thing. His team won but he knew that for the vast majority of the contest, the Wolverines played on their heels and if not for the play of their netminder, this one might not have even been close.
"Our team had to play more in our own zone tonight than we have all year," said the 71-year-old coach, "That was a great team in North Dakota. And they proved it. They just couldn't score."
Sennior goalie Shawn Hunwick stopped everything the Sioux fired at him and according to teammate Jon Merrill (NJ), his play has given the Wolverines a ton of confidence.
"Coach always said whatever team has the best goalie is going to win this thing and I think for sure we have the best goalie right now," he said, "It's a lot of weight off your shoulders when you have a guy back there for sure."
North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol wears his emotions on his sleeve and after the game he had the unenviable task of trying to explain the loss.
"We played extremely hard, we didn't leave anything in the tank, but we couldn't get one past their goaltender," he said summing up the game pefectly.
Let's be honest, Michigan's offence was almost no where to be found in this one. No one can make the case that the Wolverines shutdown UND - they did outshoot Michigan 40-20. The Sioux gave up just one power play so they were disciplined. Aaron Dell may have faced less shots but he had to make big saves at key times as well to keep the Sioux from falling further behind.
UND was the better team in virtually every category in the game except one; goals for.
"There was no frustration in our game," said Hakstol, "We laid it on the line right until the end of the game. I thought absolutely, you know, until the final buzzer that we had an opportunity to tie the game. There was not one minute or one second throughout the third period that any doubt had crept in."
"You keep going, you keep working.. we created the opportunities," he continued, "Unfortunately for our players and that's my biggest concern, our program and our players, unfortunately one didn't go in. And that's the sudden finality of the NCAA Division I sports. It's a one game shot. You win and you move on. You lose and it's a very sudden and final finish."
North Dakota's senior group of 7 players took it the hardest knowing they won't have a chance at redemption next year. One UND beat writer I spoke with said Manitoba-born Chay Genoway was extremely distraught afterward. Derrick Lapoint (FLA) was part of the postgame panel and came to the podium still wearing his equipment, not ready to take off the jersey a final time.
"You never want to lose your senior year, especially the last game and for the group of guys that I'm graduating with, they're some of my best friends, for them to not win a national championship and not end it the right way, the way we wanted it to, is extremely difficult," he said, "It's been a dream of mine to play for the Fighting Sioux, and I just really wanted to add to the tradition of that program and to not win a national championship is heartbreaking. You just don't want to do it, and it will definitely take a long time for me to take this jersey off because it's something I've worn with pride my entire career."
"And I know the group of seven guys in there, we've left it all on the table, all four years that we've been here, so it's not an easy time right now."
99 times out of 100, if one team dominates another like we saw on Thursday night, they win that game. This time the Wolverines prevailed and they'll take on Duluth on Saturday with a chance to claim the National title. They know that to win again, they'll have to be better than they were against UND.
"We can't play the whole game in our own zone and we can't rely on our goalie to be the first start of the game, we have to play better than we played," said Berenson, "So we won the game, but I can't tell you that this is the kind of game we can get away with playing again."
Winnett, from New Westminster, B.C. agreed that they'll have to be sharper against Duluth than they played against North Dakota.
"I think that's fair to say," Winnett said, "We took quite a few penalties tonight, we were a little bit relaxed in our own zone and Shawn Hunwick had to come up and make some pretty big saves. I'm sure he can do that again on Saturday but if we can limit their opportunities against another pretty good power play that will definitely be part of our game plan."
- Duluth beat Notre Dame 4-3 in Thursday's early game. Former AJHL forwards facotred largely for the Bulldogs as Mike Connolly scored to give UMD their first lead and Justin Fontaine recorded three asissts in the game.
- Canadian Riley Sheahan (DET) took 6 minutes in penalties in the game for the Irish. Head coach Jeff Jackson said after the game that the officicating wasn't bad, it was "different" than they were used to. He pointed out that Sheahan was one of their least penalized players all year.
- Captains of the four teams here this year vary greatly in Nationality. Two are Americans; Mike Montgomery for Duluth and Joe Lavin for the Irish. The other two are Canadian and Swedish; Chay Genoway of the Sioux and Michigan's Carl Hagelin (NYR).
- North Dakota forward Brock Nelson was hit as he drove to the net. His was knocked off his feet and he slide heavily into the end boards. He was taken off the ice by stretcher but it's believed that was precautionary only as Nelson at one point was up on his hands and knees. No update on the Islanders prospect was immediately available after the game.
- The loss of the Sioux and Irish (but especially the Sioux) dropped the number of Canadians at the Frozen Four down to 11. Four with Michigan: Louie Caporusso (OTT), Brandon Burlon (NJ), Ben Winnett (TOR) and Lindsay Sparks. There are 7 on the roster for Duluth: Mike Connolly, Justin Fontaine, Joe Basaraba (FLA), Wade Bergman, Cody Danberg, Brady Lamb and Travis Oleksuk.
- The unofficial signing watch has begun with most of the speculation being directed towards UND's Jason Gregoire (NYI). Some undrafted guys I think should get consideration: the obvious players like Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly but defenceman Mike Montgomery is a 6'3, 210 lb d-man and captain of the Bulldogs. How about Calle Ridderwall, Chay Genoway and goalie Aaron Dell?
- Saturday's final game starts at 6pm in Minnesota (5pm Mountain time) and is shown down here on ESPN2 and online through ESPN3. If you know of a way that Canadian viewers can watch either on TV or online (free or for pay) make sure you leave it in the comments section so others who want to watch... CAN!