SAULT STE. MARIE — On the same night the NHL returned to the world following 116 days without a game, the Michigan hockey team sought to end a drought of its own and find the weekend sweep that it had failed to collect all season.
Despite overcoming one obstacle and notching their first road win of the season the night before, the Wolverines were unable to finish out the weekend on top, falling to Lake Superior State in a 3-2 decision on Saturday night.
It was already a tough pill to swallow, but even more disheartening considering that Michigan coach Red Berenson believed that the Wolverines were playing at the highest standard they have all season.
“(The team) had probably their best weekend of the year in terms of commitment and work ethic and playing the way they needed to play,” Berenson said. “We had a good result last night and not a good result tonight. It’s too bad that everything’s based on results — our team laid it on the line and they weren’t good enough tonight.”
Michigan’s power play showed its colors early in the first period — though unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 advantage, freshman forward Boo Nieves scored in the waning seconds of the second power play.
That momentum appeared as if it could carry the Wolverines (5-11-2 CCHA, 8-14-2 overall) through the rest of the stanza — they effortlessly killed off its first penalty a couple of minutes later.
But as the period started to wind down, the Lakers regained their confidence, and started peppering junior goaltender Adam Janecyk with shots. It seemed to be a matter of time before Lake Superior State (8-9-1, 13-12-1) found the back of the net — and they did, with an effortless backhand from the slot with a little more than one minute left in the frame.
When the whistle blew at the end of the first period, a skirmish broke out between junior defenseman Jon Merrill and a Laker, resulting in a Michigan penalty kill to kick off the second frame.
Once again, the penalty-kill unit killed off the penalty without batting an eye, and Michigan dominated possession in the second period with countless grade-A scoring opportunities, though they just couldn’t bury the chances.
That is, until senior forward A.J. Treais’ one timer off a beautiful feed from sophomore forward Alex Guptill’s turnover in the neutral zone found twine to simultaneously put the Wolverines up 2-1 and end the captain’s scoring drought that had lasted since Dec. 1.
But once again, Michigan’s lead was short lived as the Lakers knotted up the game minutes later on the man advantage to finally end the Wolverines’ perfect penalty kill, which had thwarted three Lake Superior State penalties up to that point.
Where Michigan’s defense had appeared strong before, it started to collapse upon itself in the final period. Though Janecyk was on the receiving end of some puck luck, that didn’t excuse the miscues that brought the puck dangerously close to crossing the line, including a turnover in the neutral zone that lead to a Lake Superior State breakaway.
But Janecyk’s luck couldn’t last forever, and the Lakers slammed in a rebound goal to put them up 3-2, a score that would stand, with 13 minutes remaining in the game. After that, the Wolverine offense started to pick itself up, but was unable to create the same quality looks at net that they had earlier on in the game.
“We just needed one shot to get by them and that never happened,” Berenson said. “We got some good shots and some good looks and the puck never went in. We got (some) good chances (but) it’s tough to buy a goal. Tonight, we were lucky to get two.”
And the Wolverines, who had been on cloud nine the night before, could barely find the words to explain how the game slipped out of their grasp.
“I thought we deserved to win this game,” Treais said. “(We) just didn’t bury our chances and they got lucky on a few rebounds. That’s the way it goes sometimes.”