By JACK VANASSCHE, Sports Editor
In perhaps the most dramatic game thus far at the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I Men’s Ice Hockey National Championships, the University of Michigan-Dearborn defeated Robert Morris University-Illinois, 4-3, in overtime on Saturday night at the OhioHealth Ice Haus in Columbus, Ohio.
Nic LaBurn was the hero for the Wolverines (24-7-1), finishing with two goals including the game-winner in overtime.
Six minutes into the overtime period, LaBurn collected a loose puck in front of the Robert Morris (22-9-5) net and slipped it past a kneeling defender for the deciding goal.
“Their D-man was in front of the net and he got down to block it,” said LaBurn of the game-winner, “and I thought he blocked it and I saw it trickle in behind him. That was it.
“I blacked out,” LaBurn said. “I don’t know. I just saw the puck there; I whacked at it. After that, I don’t know.”
LaBurn was met first by team captain Ryan Urso before the Wolverine bench piled atop the two along the far-side boards.
“I was tired,” LaBurn said. “I was tired, man. And when you got 20 guys on top of you? It’s crazy.”
The pure joy felt in that moment was a stark contrast from the feeling at the Ice Haus in the first 15 minutes of the game, which saw the Eagles peppering UM-Dearborn goaltender Thomas Proudlock and laying big hits on all ends of the ice.
Proudlock was strong in net early, highlighted by a glove save and a cleared rebound on an early Robert Morris chance that had some Eagles already celebrating.
Escaping the early attacks, the Wolverines shifted momentum with just over three minutes left in the first period when LaBurn netted his first of the night off a pass from Urso.
Robert Morris responded quickly with a goal of their own 24 seconds later. Junior forward Nathan Chasteen tipped in a shot from teammate Josh Hart to tie the game at 1-1.
The Wolverines were given a penalty after the allowed goal, and the Eagles took advantage. Chasteen scored his second goal in as many shifts a minute later with the man advantage.
After taking an early lead, the Wolverines headed to intermission looking up at the Eagles, but that didn’t worry UM-Dearborn head coach Chris Haltinner.
“You know, it’s not that bad. We have a group that’s composed. Our guys kept their composure, we knew we were okay. Even when we were down 2-1, it’s fine. They’ve always kept positive and happy vibes going.”
In the second period, the Wolverines were being outshot and had almost no quality scoring chances. A tripping call, however, sent UM-Dearborn on the power play.
Urso tied the game at 2-2 in the first 30 seconds of the power play with a wrist shot from the slot. Tyler Groat was credited with the assist.
The teams remained tied until the third period, when Jeff McFarland gave the Wolverines a 3-2 advantage just 25 seconds into the frame with an unassisted wrister.
Nick Gnagi answered for RMU later in the period with a high chip shot over Proudlock’s shoulder to send the game to overtime.
Both teams traded high-quality chances in the first minutes of the extra frame. Proudlock stopped each shot he faced in overtime, and finished with 28 saves on 31 shots.
Cole Semchak finished with 21 saves for the Eagles on 25 shots faced.
“It’s electric,” Haltinner said. “It was huge. My guys, they battled hard. We’re happy and ecstatic to play Minot tomorrow. They deserve this.”
The win sends Robert Morris home and puts the Wolverines in the national quarterfinals. They will match up against No. 1 Minot State University on Sunday night at 8 p.m. at OhioHealth Ice Haus.