By Aarif Mohie El-Deen –
In preparation for next weekend’s playoff bout between the two clubs, the Michigan-Dearborn Wolves and the Eastern Michigan Eagles battled on consecutive nights to close out the regular season.
Friday night’s match-up at the Taylor Sportsplex Ice Rink went in favor of the Eagles 5-2 – the eighth straight loss for the Wolves.
But on Saturday, in front of the Michigan-Dearborn Fieldhouse crowd, on the last day of the regular season, the Wolves gave their seniors a memorable sendoff with an 8-7 victory in overtime.
Friday night’s contest featured the return of senior forward John Vella to the Wolves line-up after missing 12 games. His return to the top line paid dividends early. Just nine minutes into the first period Vella skated the puck into the offensive zone, drawing goaltender Kevin Kissaw out of his crease and leading to the eventual goal by junior Anthony Olson.
The Wolves took an early 1-0 lead but the Eagles would answer back with two quick goals on junior Micah Collier to get the lead heading into the final minutes of the period.
The top line once again got the job done for the Wolves when Vella buried a rebound goal off Olson’s initial shot to send the teams into the second period tied at two.
Just over a minute into the second period, Vella’s comeback was cut short after he received a five-minute major for hitting defenseman Ryan Decaires from behind that sent him awkwardly into the boards. The unfortunate incident led to a lengthy power play that the Eagles capitalized on and sent Vella to the dressing room for the rest of the night.
After scoring with just 22 seconds left on Vella’s penalty, the Eagles added two more in the third period and finished off the game. The loss of Vella from the top scoring line as well as Kissaw’s strong play was enough to shutdown the Wolves.
On senior night at the Michigan-Dearborn Fieldhouse, the Wolves had to ice a lineup with four big pieces missing. Already without junior Chris Merrill, the Wolves were also missing Vella, who got an extra game for his hit, defenseman Jacob Poynter, who received a DQ Friday night, and the other top line winger, senior Rob Zubke, who pulled his groin Friday and was unable to skate during warm-ups.
The Wolves shook up the lines, started Josh Khan in net, and managed to earn a victory for their seniors.
Just a minute into the contest, however, the Eagles got a goal from Bryan Kozlowski. They would build on their lead, eventually holding a 3-1 spread entering the final minute of the period.
The Wolves would once again play to the final buzzer. Junior Jase Paciocco skated off the half boards and fired a shot bar down for the second time to make it a one goal game. And just over 30 seconds later senior Casey McLogan tied the game after a nice setup from junior Nezar Habhab. The game was tied with just six seconds remaining.
The Wolves let the Eagles get ahead again in the second period again but tied it up at four when senior Alex McDonnell potted home his fourth goal of the season. But after the Eagles answered back with two quick goals and chased Khan from the net, the Wolves found themselves down a goal entering the third period.
The Wolves continued to press for a goal and finally got it from freshman Ryan Kelly who was held off the score sheet for six consecutive games. With the game all tied up, the Wolves received a late power play and took advantage of it. Olson continued to have a fantastic game driving the puck into the offensive zone. After his initial shot was saved by Andrew Duff, Paciocco poked home the rebound to complete the hat trick and give the Wolves a lead with under two minutes left.
But a late delay-of-game power play gave the Eagles a shot at tying it, and they did, with just nine seconds remaining.
In overtime, the Wolves needed a hero to step up. And they got it in the form of sophomore Jeremy Klotz. “It was clutch,” Kelly said. “He was working hard all game, that was really big.” Olson’s shot once again was saved, but Klotz was able to tap home the puck that Duff couldn’t cover, and the Wolves won their season finale in an epic fashion.
It feels pretty good, we’ve been struggling there for a little while, and we got the energy back tonight and got a big win. I think we got the momentum now heading into the playoffs.”
Next weekend’s game will be played at the Patterson Ice Arena in Grand Rapids. Puck drop is scheduled for 5 p.m.