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March 15, 2013

U-M topples WMU, keeps NCAA dream alive

Left for dead a month ago, the Michigan hockey team continued its furious late-season run - and is now one game closer to keeping its incredible 22-year NCAA Tournament streak alive.

The Wolverines toppled Western Michigan, 4-3, in Kalamazoo Friday night, the first in a three-game series. With a win Saturday or Sunday, Michigan will earn a place in the CCHA semifinals.

On Feb. 9, Michigan lost at Notre Dame, 6-4, to fall to fall to 10-18-2 on the year. With a spot in the NCAA Tournament all but impossible, the Wolverines closed the regular season on a 3-0-1 streak.

The Wolverines swept Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA Tournament - and now find themselves just three wins away from an NCAA automatic berth.

"We found that out last weekend that Friday is a big game; that was a big win obviously," said freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba, who score two goals in the win. "We've got to finish it tomorrow because we don't want to give them a chance, and once they're down there we want to keep them there."

It was just the third home loss Western Michigan sustained all year.

Michigan built momentum early. Playing short-handed after a penalty, the Wolverines gave up two great scoring chances, including a 2-on-1 breakaway in front of the net. But freshman goalie Steve Racine sent both away.

Just over a minute after Michigan killed the penalty, sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe got Michigan on the board first. Freshman Justin Selman added to the lead with three minutes left in the period.

But a wild postseason run wouldn't be anything without a little drama.

In a 62-second span in the opening five minutes of the second period, Racine gave up two goals.

The lightning-quick Bronco attack knotted up the score and sent the Western Michigan home crowd into a tizzy after it was lulled to sleep by the Wolverines' strong opening 20 minutes.

But the Wolverines refused to let the quick-strike attack bury them.

"I think we're a different team now," Michigan coach Red Berenson said. "We've got a different confidence level."

Trouba took over. Midway through the second period, Trouba recaptured momentum for the Wolverines.

He deflected a pass, stormed toward the Bronco net and pump-faked a slap shot, completely deking the entire Western defense.

After another Western goal, Trouba scored again the third period to put Michigan up 4-3 - a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

After the Wolverines took the lead, Trouba junior defenseman Jon Merrill each tallied three blocks on Western shot attempts - helping out Racine and closing out the win.

"It was [one of our best defensive performances]," senior defenseman Lee Moffie said. " I knew it had to be. We have enough scoring on our team right now, and I think the focus of our team has to be defense. All our defensemen have kind of taken that role."


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