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Michigan earns its shot at Big Ten hockey title

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
J.T. Compher celebrates with his Michigan teammates after breaking a 1-1 tie in the second period.

Detroit — An offensively-gifted Michigan team was more than defensive-minded Michigan State and its terrific goalie Jake Hildebrand could handle Friday, and the Wolverines beat the Spartans, 4-1, to advance to the championship game of the Big Ten tournament.

Michigan, which has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2012, after making it for 22 consecutive seasons, faces off against Minnesota, the regular season champion, at 8 p.m. Saturday, for the NCAA berth awarded to the winner of the Big Ten tournament.

"We were unable to match their pace and intensity tonight," Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. "Didn't execute very well. We were chasing them all night.

"Michigan played great. We were on our heals all night."

Michigan coach Red Berenson said his team was well set for the game after splitting the season series with the Spartans.

"I like the way our team played, from start to finish," he said. "We felt good coming into this game. I can't say it was revenge. It was more confidence and momentum and maybe something to prove.

"And let's face it, this tournament is one and done for both teams. And that adds a significant dimension to the Michigan State rivalry. One of us was going to be finishedtonight."

Attendance for the game increased dramatically over the previous three games of the second Big Ten men's ice hockey tournament, the first at Joe Louis Arena. Officially, 6,324 saw the game.

One way to make a really good goalie look a bit ordinary is to descend upon him in waves, and take advantage of the opportunities.

Michigan used the tactic a week ago, but lost to Hildebrand and Michigan State, 2-1, at Yost Ice Arena, losing the regular season title as a result. But on Friday the Wolverines got more puck behind the Big Ten player and goalie of the year, and they made fewer mistakes defensively.

In doing so they beat a stout Michigan State club, which made dramatic strides this season.

The Wolverines outshot the Spartans, 49-27.

"We knew how hard they were going to come out, and how hard they were going to compete," Hildebrand said. "We prepared all week to come in here and battle.

"They're a really skilled team and they can put the puck in the back of the net, and they just executed tonight. "

In the first period, both teams played their inclinations. Michigan was strong to the hop on offense, and Michigan State tracked them closely.

Hildebrand stopped 23 shots. But it was not enough.

On the power play, at 12:59, Michigan scored on a shot from the blue line by senior defenseman Michael Downing.

Dowling's shot struck Spartans defenseman John Draeger at about his right hip and deflected behind Hildebrand, who stood no chance. Andrew Copp and Tyler Motte assisted.

Michigan's 24 shots were the most it has fired in one period all season.

The Spartans were unable to launch a vigorous forecheck of the sort that helped them pressure Michigan's defense in wins earlier this season, especially in the last game of the season last Saturday in Ann Arbor, when they snatched the regular season crown from the Wolverines.

"The positive, in the first period, was that we were able to come out of it with only a one-goal deficit," Anastos said. "I told the guys, the good news is there's 40 minutes left to play."

But Michigan State was unable to correct the problem with the forechecking or to slow down Michigan in the second period.

But they did tie it, at 1.

On the power play Matt Berry, the senior from Canton, scored at 8:41.

Michigan continued to come on in in waves, and a mistake by the Spartans spurred the next goal.

Just after the 11-minute mark, Alex Kile picked up the puck on a Michigan State turnover near the Michigan blue line and hustled up ice.

Halfway into the Spartans zone, he dropped the puck back to J.T. Compher, in full stride.

Compher let his considerable speed carry him to about 25 feet from Hildebrand and, powered in part by his momentum, let go a sniper's wrist shot that beat an outstanding goalie high, glove side.

It was his 12th goal of the season.

"I thought we were starting to come on," after Berry's power play goal, Anastos said. "But then, we made a huge turnover."

Kile said the goal was "huge."

"We always talk about it," he said. "If we get scored upon, the next shift has to be a great shift.

"And, the puck squirted out and we were just opportunistic, I guess."

Finally, in the third period, when the Spartans began to get a little offensive momentum, outshooting Michigan 8-5, the Wolverines slammed the door.

A flurry of attempts and one shot stopped by Hildebrand left him sitting, legs spread in a wide V in the crease.

Cristoval "Boo" Nieves screamed down the right wing, gathered the loose puck and buried it from point-blank range for his seventh goal of the year to make it 3-1

Nieves, a junior, was drafted by the New York Rangers.

He was assisted by Motte, of St. Clair, and Dexter Dancs.

Kile, of Troy, added an insurance goal at 13:40. He was assisted by Nieves.

Both Kile and Nieves had a goal and as assist. Motte had two assists.

"We're going to be ready to go tomorrow," Kile said. "Every time we play Minnesota we get really pumped up.

"Arguably, we are the two best teams in the Big Ten, and I think tomorrow we're going to see who's best."