Michigan celebrates clinching a Frozen Four trip. Credit- Cameron Levasseur/Quinnipiac Chronicle

Wolverines Survive Bobcat Push, Clinch Frozen Four Bid

Allentown, PA- The Michigan Wolverines entered the 2021-22 season with overwhelming hype thanks to their embarrassment of NHL draft riches. Through the Big 10 Championship Game and first round of the NCAA Tournament, all that hype appeared to be justified. One step short of the Frozen Four, Michigan flexed their talent, scared their fans, and relieved tension with an astounding offensive display to punch their record 26th Frozen Four trip over the Quinnipiac Bobcats

The puck bounced in Michigan’s favor in the first period. A fluttering puck pinged off Nolan Moyle’s stick and across the goal-line 33 seconds into the game to start the scoring. Quinnipiac tilted the ice in their favor for middle of the first period but Erik Portillo held firm and stopped all 14 Bobcat shots in the opener. Luke Hughes took the chance to spin around a defender and backhand pass to Alternate Captain Jimmy Lambert for the punch-home 2-0 score to cap the first period.

Erik Portillo makes a save against Quinnipiac. Credit- Cameron Levasseur/Quinnipiac Chronicle

Michigan only outshot Quinnipiac 9-6 in the second, but appeared to nail the Bobcat’s coffin shut. Michael Lombardi took a holding penalty and 33 seconds later, San Jose Sharks draft pick Thomas Bordeleau notched his 11th goal of the season to make the score 3-0. In the dying minutes of the frame, goalie Erik Portillo took an interference penalty. With Jimmy Lambert serving the penalty in the box, Michigan created a shorthand breakaway for senior Garrett Van Wyhe to seemingly break Quinnipiac’s back and take a 4-0 lead into the second intermission.

Owen Power skates against Quinnipiac. Credit- Cameron Levasseur/Quinnipiac Chronicle

Quinnipiac Head Coach Rand Pecknold pulled freshman goalie Yaniv Perets after the second. The Freshman from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec, stopped 19 of 23 shots faced. The Mike Richter Award Finalist ends the season with a 1.17 Goals Against Average for the season, setting a new NCAA DI Men’s record for single season GAA. Perets surpasses Jimmy Howard’s record of 1.19 GAA from the 2003-04 season with the Maine Black Bears while playing 437 more minutes in his respective season than Howard.

Notre Dame graduate student transfer Dylan St. Cyr took the net for the final frame.

Across the hall, while Quinnipiac regrouped, Michigan celebrated their success, much to Head Coach Mel Pearson’s concern.

“I thought we were too high after the second period,” Mel Pearson. “We came in the locker room and holy cow. I don’t think it was quiet in there for the whole fifteen minutes. Guys were bouncing off the walls.”

Quinnipiac showed by their third period effort that Pearson’s concerns were warranted. 4:12 into the frame, Jayden Lee spun off a defender and fired a shot while falling to the ice that snuck through Portillo to end the shutout. Just under five minutes later, Ethan De Jong picked Ethan Edwards’ pocket and wired a pass to long-time line mate and Bobcat Captan Wyatt Bongiovanni to funnel it through Portillo for a 4-2 score. Two minutes later, Ty Smilanic wrapped the puck around the net and set up Desi Burgart to cut the deficit to 4-3.

Portillo inadvertently gave his team a prolonged timeout after Burgart’s goal when he went to the bench to replace a broken skate lace. Following the break, the Bobcats kept attacking and refused to lighten up the offense.

Then came Rand Pecknold’s most controversial decision. With 3:57 left in the game, Pecknold pulled St. Cyr from the net for the extra attacker. This is well within Pecknold’s character. Against Harvard in the ECAC Championship, he pulled the goalie for an extra attacker while on the power play for the extra attacker. It worked in the Harvard game and misfired against Michigan.

Michael Pastujov and Nolan Moyle notched empty netters and Brendan Brisson landed a final tally on a power play to put the game out of reach. QU defenseman Zach Metsa ended the scoring in the last minute to close the game at 7-4 in Michigan’s favor.

“I think we took it a little easy there after the second period,” said Portillo. But I think it’s a great learning experience for us.”

Quinnipiac ends their season 32-7-3. They tied the program record for wins in a season, set previously by the 2016 Frozen Four unit.

“It wasn’t our best effort, it was a bit frustrating,” explained Pecknold. “But I’m really proud of our group. I’m proud of the effort and what they did for Quinnipiac University.”

Dylan St. Cyr stopped four of five shots faced in his relief effort. He, along with fellow graduate transfers Griffin Mendel (Denver), Brendan Less (Dartmouth), and Oliver Chau (Massachusetts) conclude their collegiate careers. St. Cyr, Mendel, and Chau all played in the Frozen Four at their prior schools. Chau made two Frozen Fours and claimed a National championship with UMass. They all teamed with Seniors Michael Lombardi, Wyatt Bongiovanni, Ethan De Jong, Desi Burgart, TJ Friedmann, Zach Metsa, and Marcus Chorney to a third Conference Regular Season crown and third NCAA Tournament bid in the class’s tenure in Hamden.

“I had a tremendous leadership group along with me,” said Captain Bongiovanni. “But to lead this team to the success we had throughout the entire year, its a blessing. Something I’ll never forget, something I’ll never take for granted. It’s a true pleasure to wear this crest.”

He and the entire senior class have an extra year of eligibility thanks to the pandemic, and will have to decide what their future plans are.

Michigan improves to 31-9-1 and punches the program’s 26th Frozen Four trip, the most of any college hockey program, breaking a tie with Boston College.

Eric Portillo stopped 30 of 34 shots faced and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Allentown Regional. The other All-Tournament Team members were Luke Hughes, Owen Power, Brendan Brisson, Garrett Van Wyhe, and QU’s Ethan De Jong.

2021’s top overall draft pick Owen Power recorded a career high four assists and six assists for the weekend for a season total of 30 assists and 33 points in 32 games played in a Wolverine uniform.

“I’m really proud of this team for finding a way to gut it out,” commented Pearson. “Right from the start of the season, the media and the pundits said ‘oh they can’t do it, they’re too young’. These guys have found a way to do it. And we’re going to Boston.”

Michigan will face the Denver Pioneers in Boston on Thursday, April 7th.

The other Frozen Four matchup is between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks.