By George Sipple
ST. PAUL, Minn. – It was too soon for Michigan senior forward Ben Winnett to think about anything beyond that final moment.
Michigan’s season came to a disappointing end with a 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Division I men’s hockey championship game Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
“This soon after losing the game it’s hard to reflect,” said Winnett, who had scored the opening goal of the game and had scored in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. “All I can think about is the game-winning goal.”
That came 3:22 into overtime, when Travis Oleksuk fed Kyle Schmidt from behind the net for his 11th goal of the season.
“Yeah, I think the guy was behind the net,” said Michigan goaltender Shawn Hunwick. “Threw a backdoor kind of. I didn’t get over and across in time. I need to see the replay again. It happened so fast. I’m not sure what really happened.”
Oleksuk knew what happened.
“I just kind of got the puck behind the net, and I saw (Schmidt) drive to the net,” he said. “I was hoping that no one was going to go take him and it ended up no one took him and he found the open net.”
Oleksuk was at a loss to explain what he felt next.
“Once he scored that goal, I didn’t know how to react,” Oleksuk said. “It was just an amazing feeling. Words don’t describe it.”
Hunwick earned all-tournament honors after making 35 saves in the title game and 40 in the 2-0 win over North Dakota in the semifinals.
Michigan sophomore forward Jeff Rohrkemper, who scored Michigan’s other goal, was also left thinking about Schmidt’s goal instead of the one he scored at 17:46 of the second to tie the game at 2.
“Sadness,” Rohrkemper said of his emotions. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime gone in the blink of an eye.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson praised the Bulldogs for winning their first hockey title.
“Good for Minnesota-Duluth,” Berenson said. “It’s been a long time coming for them, and they’ve got a good coaching staff and they’ve got a good team.
“They’re a better team than we thought they were during the year. They kind of slipped under the radar all year, after they dropped out of (the No.1 ranking). But they’re the real deal, and they’re a good team. I just wish we could have given them a better game.”
The Bulldogs controlled the tempo for much of Saturday’s championship as the Wolverines struggled to get many good scoring chances.
“So just for whatever reason (we) didn’t click this weekend, but hopefully these guys will get it next time,” U-M senior Louie Caporusso said.
The Wolverines only gave up one power play, but they took too many penalties.