Michigan upsets Mel Pearson's Huskies in GLI semifinal

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Michigan's Alex Kile celebrates a goal by teammate Cutler Martin during the first period.

Detroit – Michigan coach Red Berenson, the winningest coach in the history of the Great Lakes Invitational college hockey tournament, knows he stole one from his protégé Sunday.

"I can't sit here and tell you we were the better team," Berenson said. "We weren't the better team. They jumped on us from the get-go. But our team held up, our goalie held up and we found a way to win."

A power-play goal by senior Zach Hyman at 3:44 of the third period lifted the unranked Wolverines a surprising 2-1 win against No. 5 ranked and tournament favorite Michigan Tech, coached by Mel Pearson, who for 23 years was Berenson's assistant at Michigan.

"Some nights you do everything you need to do to win a game," said Pearson. "I thought we did a lot of good things to put ourselves in a position to win. But you have to score goals."

It wasn't supposed to go like this.

The Wolverines (9-7-0) were without four of their best players. Forwards Dylan Larkin, the Red Wings' No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, Tyler Motte and J.T. Compher, plus defenseman Zach Werenski are competing for Team USA at the World Juniors.

The Huskies came in 13-3, having beaten the Wolverines twice already this season by a combined score of 10-3. And for two periods, they were thoroughly outplaying the Wolverines. The Huskies got off 62 shot attempts through two periods – 33 never made it Michigan goalie Steve Racine. Twenty-one missed the net, 12 were blocked.

"I think we did a poor job with the puck, especially offensively," Pearson said. "Our execution was not very good. We held on to the puck too long and tried to get into too perfect position. And we missed on shots."

Miraculously, the score was tied 1-1 after two periods.

"We knew it was 1-1 and they were doubling us up on shots," said Michigan's leading goal scorer Alex Kile. "But we told ourselves we were still tied any anyone could win. We just needed to get that goal."

The Wolverines opened the scoring at 6:28 of the first when defenseman Cutler Martin's shot from the point seemed to deflect off a Tech player and get past goalie Jamie Phillips.

The Huskies tied it exactly four minutes later on a pretty, tic-tac-toe passing play. Tanner Kero won the puck behind the Michigan net and fed it to Alex Petan in the slot. Petan one-timed a cross-ice pass to Malcolm Gould, who buried his sixth goal of the season.

The story, though, was Racine. He was benched after the two losses at Michigan Tech, and Zach Nagelvoort had started in goal the previous eight games.

"We did a lot of soul searching about our team after the first half," Berenson said. "Our goals-for was third in the country but our goals-against (46 in 15 games) was about 42nd. We were not where we thought we should be. We talked about Nagelvoort. He played the last eight games and we won six of them, but we gave up too many soft goals.

"Whether he was tired and needed a breather or whether he needed a wake up call, I don't know. On the flip side, Steve had not been given a chance since we played Michigan Tech and we got embarrassed."

Berenson said he was keeping his fingers crossed that Racine would find his form.

"If you had watched the warmups you wouldn't have started him," Berenson said. "He was letting everything in. But you can't use the warmup as a guide."

Not this time. Racine came up big.

"We knew coming back off of break we had to step it up," Racine said. "I was given an opportunity. I had to make the most of it."

Racine shut the door once the Wolverines got him the lead. He made a big save on Alex Gillies and another on Riley Sweeney. His best came in the final minute against Gould and David Johnstone.

Fittingly, the Huskies final attempt, by Gould, was fired wide.

"I would like to have that one back," Gould said.

Michigan, who last won the GLI title in 2011, will play the winner of the late game between Michigan State and Ferris State on Monday at 7 p.m.

Twitter: @cmccosky