By JACK VANASSCHE, Sports Editor
For the first time since Nov. 5 of last year, the No. 8 University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey team has lost a game.
In a weekend home-and-home series against league rival No. 25 Indiana Tech, the Wolverines dropped their road game, but bounced back the following day to earn a split with the Warriors.
Friday night, the Wolverines traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind. looking to extend their winning streak to 11 games.
Instead, the Warriors halted the Wolverines in their tracks with a 4-3 victory.
“We just came out a little off,” said UM-Dearborn head coach Chris Haltinner. “We got a little, I don’t know, excited and got out of our usual systems.”
Indiana Tech struck first with 16 seconds remaining in the first period on a goal from Ryan Theisen that beat starting UM-Dearborn goaltender Nate Ferris.
The Wolverines would have to head to the locker room for the first intermission still sour over the late-period goal.
However, UM-Dearborn caught a break under a minute into the second period when 6-foot-7-inch Indiana Tech defenseman Felix Kronwall was assessed a five minute major for cross-checking and was ejected from the game.
Just over 40 seconds into the power play, Jeff McFarland followed his own shot and beat Warrior goalie John Slavik to tie the game at 1-1.
The Wolverines continued the man advantage as it was a major penalty, but Slavik came up big for the Warriors to keep the game tied.
Nearly midway through the period, at full strength, the Warriors regained the lead on a goal from Nick Denice.
A minute later, the Warriors had a chance to score a big insurance goal with a 5-on-3 advantage, but the Wolverines’ penalty kill was successful in keeping them in the game.
With eight minutes left in the second period, Andrew Palushaj found the back of the net for the Wolverines to tie the game at 2-2.
Indiana Tech climbed right back on top five minutes later with a goal from Jarret Pfeiffer.
In the third period, Indiana Tech extended their lead to 4-2 after Pfeiffer buried his second of the night behind Ferris immediately after winning a face-off in the Wolverines’ zone.
After allowing his fourth goal of the night, Ferris was pulled and replaced by Thomas Proudluck.
Proudlock stopped all five shots he faced in his 14 minutes in net.
The Wolverines heated up as the clock winded down, pulling within one goal thanks to McFarland’s second goal of the night with under four minutes to play.
Despite a frantic empty-net attack, Slavik and the Warriors stopped the Wolverines in the final seconds to earn the win.
In Haltinner’s words, the late rush was, “too little, too late.”
Despite the loss, UM-Dearborn outshot Indiana Tech 37-24. Slavik’s play in net for the Warriors was crucial in the upset.
“I thought we played pretty good,” said Wolverine forward Kevin Bechard. “We just couldn’t catch a break, didn’t get a few of the bounces.”
“They’re a good team,” said Haltinner. “If you don’t bring it every night, you’re going to have problems and that’s what happened.”
On Saturday night, the Wolverines evened the series with a decisive 4-1 victory over the Warriors at the UM-Dearborn Ice Arena.
The win at the Fieldhouse on Saturday puts the Wolverines (15-6-1, 7-5-0 Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League) at 14-2 at home this season.
“I knew our guys would bounce back,” Haltinner said. “Our guys worked hard today, we were just all over the place in the first game.”
McFarland got the scoring started with five minutes remaining in the first period on a shot in front of the net for his third goal of the series.
In the second period, sophomore John Barlow took a pass from Andrew Palushaj, dropped his shoulder, then ripped a wrist shot behind Indiana Tech (14-15-1, 8-8-0 GLCHL) goaltender Chet Tooker to put the Wolverines up 2-0.
The Warriors pulled within one a short while later on a powerplay goal by Nick Papandrea. After winning the faceoff, Papandrea gathered the puck in the slot and beat Proudlock glove side for the score.
Troy Saunders scored the third goal of the night for the Wolverines on a breakaway after fooling Tooker to bring the lead up to 3-1.
In the third period, Kevin Bechard took a puck poked away along the boards by teammate Nic LaBurn and beat Tooker short side to push the lead to its final destination at 4-1.
Proudlock was solid in net yet again for the Wolverines, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced on the evening.
After relieving Ferris on Friday and shutting down the Warriors on Saturday, Proudlock has emerged as the current number one netminder for the Wolverines.
“It’s early to say, but (Proudlock) is doing everything right to earn that spot,” said Haltinner. “He’s pushed hard to earn that responsibility. As long as he’s doing that, I’ll ride him while he’s hot.”
The Wolverines have had to make adjustments with the absence of leading scorer Tyler Groat and defenseman Ryan Urso while they are participating in the World University Games overseas.
That even called for some creative lineup changes from Haltinner.
“Scarps (Mike Scarpello) played defense tonight,” Haltinner said with a chuckle. “I thought he played very well.”
Scarpello is listed as a forward for the Wolverines, but stepped up when asked to fall in.
“Everyone’s picked it up a bit, and I’m really proud of them,” said Haltinner.
The Wolverines will be back in action on Friday and Saturday of this week with back-to-back home games against Kent State. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m. in the UM-Dearborn Ice Arena.