Michigan Falls in CCHA Championship

A bid to capture the school's third consecutive Mason Cup fell short last night. A streaking Buckeye squad came into Joe Lewis Arena as the underdog but held onto the early 3-0 lead just long enough to wrap up the upset 4-2.

With Ohio State coming in playing for the third day in a row the expectation was for Michigan to have the fresh legs on the ice. It appeared to be the exact opposite, however, as the Buckeyes came out blazing, dominating the first period of play. While neither team was able to put the puck away until the second period, Ohio State carried the momentum of a 17-5 first period shooting advantage into the decisive second period.

With less then two minutes gone in the second period, off-setting penalties by Brandon Rogers and Chris Olsgard really opened up the game. With two minutes of 4 on 4 play, the Buckeyes were able to take advantage of the extra skating space and went up by two goals in a short time frame. Striking for the first time early in the period, Ohio State forward Paul Caponigri took a pass behind the Wolverine net before wrapping around to the left as he flicked a quick wrist shot that trickled through Wolverine goalie Al Montoya's pads to give Ohio State the 1-0 lead.

Minutes later Ohio State struck again. At the 4:04 mark in the second period, still with four skaters on the ice for each side, Ohio State was able to capitalize on an out of position Montoya. After a shot by Buckeye forward Matt Beaudoin hit the side of the post, the puck bounced right out to a waiting teammate, Doug Andress, who slapped the puck on the one timer top shelf while Montoya struggled to get back to his feet after the initial save.

With only 33 seconds remaining in the second period, Ohio State scored what would be the winning goal for the Buckeyes. Taking advantage of their only power play of the night, Andresss picked up another assist as he ripped a shot on net towards Montoya. As the puck went wide of the net it bounced back out around the goal to the other side and a waiting Dan Knapp. Knapp quickly backhanded the puck off the back of Montoya and into the net as the Michigan goalie tried to turn to face the shooter, but wasn't quite fast enough.

Michigan rallied furiously in the third period in an effort to come back but fell short. 10:40 into the third period, Milan Gajic put Michigan on the board with an assist from Nick Martens. After a wrister by Martens, Gajic, who was floating around the Buckeye crease, was able to re-direct the shot through Buckeye goalkeeper Dave Caruso's legs to cut the deficit to two goals. Minutes later, Jeff Tambellini and Brandon Rogers teamed up for the Wolverines second goal. After skating through the neutral zone past two Ohio State defenders, Tambellini brought it inside the Buckeye blue line. As he skated in he spotted a wide open Brandon Rogers streaking to the backdoor post and Tambellini's cross ice pass got to Rogers just in time for him to flick the puck over the out stretched blocker of Caruso.

That was as close as Michigan could get, however, after the Buckeye defense tightened the screws the last seven minutes of the game. Doug Andress added his second goal of the night for the Buckeyes with 31 seconds remaining in the game on an empty net for the final score. After the game, Michigan Head Coach Red Berenson commented on the loss. "Obviously you don't come out of that game with a ton of confidence, yet we can take some good things out of it," he said. "We can't reflect too much. We'll try to build on some things, improve some things, but you can't change a lot this time of year. You have to make the best of who you are and what you are and how you play and build on that. This is desperate times."

Michigan (26-13-2) now look to regroup in time for the NCAA tournament as they drew the No. 2 seed in the Northeast regional and start their tournament run against New Hampshire (20-14-6) Saturday afternoon at 3:30 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Will they be ready to play? "I know they will," Berenson said. "These are good kids and good players. They know they need to get going. They will be the first ones to tell you that they weren't as desperate as they should have been (against Ohio State). This week, hopefully the next few weeks, will be the time to put it all aside and just focus on what they need to do to play our best."

Michigan (26-13-2), which won the regular-season CCHA title and advanced to the league's Super Six final last night (Saturday, March 20), is making its 27th overall appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines are second in all-time NCAA Tournament wins with 40 and have advanced to the Frozen Four in each of the last three seasons.

New Hampshire (20-14-3) finished fourth in the Hockey East regular-season standings and was eliminated by Massachusetts in the semifinals of the HEA tournament. The Wildcats have made it to seven Frozen Fours, including the last two. UNH advanced to the NCAA championship game last season before bowing out to Minnesota.

Boston College (27-8-4) is making its 24th NCAA Tournament appearance and has advanced to the Frozen Four 17 times in the program's history. BC was upset by rival Boston University in the first round of the Hockey East tournament but won the HEA regular-season title. The Eagles enter the NCAAs just 1-5-0 in their last six games. U-M and Boston College met in the semifinals of the 2003 Great Lakes Invitational (Dec. 27), with the Eagles prevailing 4-1.

Niagara (21-14-3) advances to the Northeast Regional as College Hockey America tournament champion. The Purple Eagles are making their second NCAA appearance in program history and first since 1999-2000. Michigan defeated Niagara 5-2 on Nov. 1, 2003, at Yost Ice Arena.

The winner of the NCAA Northeast Regional will advance to the 2004 NCAA Frozen Four Thursday and Saturday, April 8-10, at the FleetCenter in Boston, Mass.

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