By AARIF MOHIE EL-DEEN, Staff Reporter
Three nail biters, three goalies, and three nights later, the Wolves took home fourth place honors at the annual 2012 Great Lakes College Holiday Hockey Tournament. The tournament is held every Thanksgiving weekend at the Fieldhouse at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
On Friday night, they won a high-scoring affair against the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals by a final score of 8-6 before falling to the Michigan State Spartans the following night 5-3.
With that loss, the Wolves were placed in the third place match up against rival Eastern Michigan Eagles on Sunday, where they lost 6-5 in a shootout to close out their weekend with a fourth place finish in the holiday tournament.
Their victory on Friday didn’t come easy. In fact, for the first time since their winning streak began, they were trailing entering the third period.
It didn’t take them long to get on the scoreboard. Just 22 seconds in, freshman Ryan Kelly and his linemates were at it again. Sophomore Jeremy Klotz fed Kelly, who scored his first of the night.
Kelly would score once more giving the Wolves a 2-1 lead entering the second period. It was supposed to be an easy night against the Division III Saginaw Valley State Cardinals.
The offense kept rolling for the Wolves early in the second period. The Wolves took a 4-1 lead when junior Jase Paciocco set up sophomore Cody Longuski with a one-timer at the blue line that found the back of the net.
The goal was Longuski’s first of the season, and of his college career. “[I] Felt like I got the monkey off my back,” said Longuski. “I’ve been waiting all year for it, it felt great.”
With a three-goal lead midway through the game, the Wolves had everything going for them, but the Cardinals had other plans.
In a span of 4:05 the Cardinals chased Josh Khan from the net as they lit up the Wolves for four goals to take a 5-4 lead into the third period.
The Wolves were down a goal after two periods, but they were led by junior forward Jimmy Marchese entering the third period.
Just as they did in the opening period, Kelly’s line once again scored just 22 seconds in. Klotz received a pass from Paciocco to the game. Senior Rob Zubke would add another goal for the Wolves before the Cardinals tied the game up at six.
Then came the unsung hero, the new scoring leader of the team. After recording three assists, Paciocco skated the puck from end-to-end up the left boards before cutting into the slot and sniping the puck top shelf to give the Wolves a lead with under seven minutes remaining.
“There’s no doubt we came out to play,” said Paciocco. “The emotion was high in the third period.”
Kelly completed his hat trick later in the period to set the Wolves up for a semi-final matchup against the Spartans on Saturday. That game was just as hard fought as the first one.
The Wolves used the energy of the crowd to take an early lead once again on Saturday night. Senior John Vella and Kelly would score in the first two minutes.
The Wolves however couldn’t build off their two-goal lead and the first period ended with the game tied at two.
The Spartans continued to ride their momentum into the second period and got their first lead of the game after Kevin Pabst flipped the puck over junior goaltender Micah Collier.
The Spartan forward was wide-open in front of the net giving the fans a glimpse of the shaky Wolves defensive performance all weekend long.
For the second straight night, they entered the third period down a goal. For the second straight night, they tied the game. Senior Brian Kassa scored a rebound off a Marchese shot giving the crowd a lot to cheer for.
With 10 minutes remaining the teams were tied at three. It took just 12 seconds after the Wolves tied it, for the Spartans to get the lead back.
It was a goal that stung the players, the coaching staff, and the crowd alike. Michael Merritt’s goal would ultimately end up being the game-winner.
The Wolves lost for the first time in ten games, and the loss knocked them into the third place match up against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Freshman goaltender Max Dutzy got the nod between the pipes on Sunday.
Similar to the game against the Spartans the night before, the Wolves took an early lead. Junior Anthony Olson and the top line led the way for the Wolves, and 44 seconds in Zubke sniped the puck into the back of the net.
With five seconds remaining in the period Vella scored a power-play goal to give the Wolves a two goal lead.
Olson continued his strong play in the second period. His fore-checking and offensive zone pressure resulted in a goal to give the Wolves a 4-1 lead. Klotz, found Zubke in close, from the blue line, who fed Olson in the crease for a nicely set up tick-tack-toe play.
The Wolves saw their three-goal lead fade away late in the third period as the Eagles scored four of the next five goals setting up an overtime period with the score tied at five.
After five minutes of four-on-four hockey, the teams played three-on-three. Kyle Horn would hit the post twice in that final before the teams resorted to a shootout to end the game.
Jase Paciocco started the shootout with a move he’s scored on twice already this season. Unfortunately, this time it was stopped. The Eagles scored on their first shot, which ended up being the game winner.
Olson and Kelly both missed their respective shots and the Wolves were stunned with another come-from-behind loss.
It was the result of too many turnovers in the defensive zone, poor passing in the neutral zone, as well as average performances from their goaltenders. The Wolves were disappointed two nights in a row.
“You just have to come back on Tuesday (for practice) ready to work,” said Longuski. “You have to put (the tournament) behind you and just learn from your mistakes.”
The championship game between the Spartans and the Grand Valley State Lakers ended in a 5-3 final. The Lakers were crowned champions and took home a trophy presented to them by host University of Michigan-Dearborn Athletic Director Steve Rotta.
This week, they host Davenport on Friday before traveling to Grand Rapids on Saturday for the rematch.
With two straight losses in the record books now, the Wolves will need to recover in a major fashion to beat out the team ranked seventh in the nation in the ACHA Men’s Division 1 league.