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CINCINNATI — They say styles make fights, and that was the case as Michigan took on Notre Dame on Friday night in the NCAA Midwest Regional.
Second-seeded Michigan entered with the best line in college hockey, the CCM trio of Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte with a combined 85 goals. Third-seeded Notre Dame, meanwhile, was built from the net out, with Cal Petersen backstopping one of the stingiest teams in the nation.
NCAA Midwest Regional
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But Michigan had enough to break through, as Zach Werenski scored the game-tying goal in the third and Motte completed a transition move in overtime to push the Wolverines to a 3-2 victory and a Saturday date with North Dakota with a Frozen Four bid on the line.
“I think everyone here saw a good game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Obviously, Notre Dame is a proven team and a tough team to play against. They made it tough on us. Having the lead really favored them. It was really important when Zach scored that goal to tie it up — that was huge. I thought from that point on, we started to play with a little more momentum.”
Werenski’s tying goal came with 10:08 to play in regulation. With the Wolverines pressing, the first-round draft pick dipped into the slot from the left point, took a pass from Cristoval Nieves and fired quickly past Petersen’s blocker to knot the game at 2.
“Anytime you tie a game up in the third period like that, it’s huge, but a game like that where Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in a couple years, just to give ourselves a chance to win at that point was awesome,” Werenski said after Michigan’s 75th third-period goal this year. “The best part is going through the line and seeing how happy everyone is. From that point forward, we had some momentum.”
Notre Dame held on to get through regulation, and overtime was end-to-end hockey begging for a winner. Michigan still had the better of the play — shots were 18-8 in favor of the Wolverines in the third period and extra frame — and converted after a neutral zone turnover.
Connor swept into the zone on the left side, bought time and then fed Compher at the near post, and the Michigan captain sent a no-look feed across the crease for Motte to slam home just ahead of Notre Dame defenseman Dennis Gilbert for goal No. 32 on the year.
“It was a great college hockey game,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “Our guys played their hearts out, and I am just extremely proud of them. Our senior class has probably done a better job in leading than I have ever had, so I am very proud of them.”
Justin Selman also scored for Michigan, while Anders Bjork and Thomas DiPauli had Notre Dame’s goals.
Both goalies were also worthy of praise, as Petersen stopped 32 shots, including several highlight-worthy denials highlighted by a breakaway save on Compher.
Steve Racine on the other side was his equal in performance with 28 saves.
“He’s played really well recently, and I mean recently in the last month,” Berenson said. “Steve Racine is giving Michigan a chance to be where we are.”
Petersen set the tone with a blocker save on Alex Kile just a minute into the game, and the teams went back and forth throughout the rest of the period.
Kile set up the first goal of the game after a faceoff, touching a pass to Selman in the slot for his 13th goal of the season at 10:31 of the first.
Notre Dame’s response was an individual effort by Bjork, the team’s leading scorer. He knocked the puck off the wall past a Michigan defenseman to set up a two-on-one break, then fired over Racine’s blocker at 15:46 for his 12th goal.
Bjork also set up the goal that gave the Irish the lead just 24 seconds into the second period, dropping a pass to DiPauli for a quick shot that surprised Racine and went in far side.
From there, Notre Dame carried play in the second and tried to play defense and counterattack in the third. But in the end, Michigan’s high-flying offense was just enough to get over the hump.
“It’s one of those classic matchups between Michigan and Notre Dame, where we were supposed to have the offense and they’re supposed to have the defense and they usually have the goalkeeping,” Berenson said. “Defense usually wins, and Jeff’s had the edge in some of those games and we’ve had the edge in some. But it can go either way.”