This weekend, then, was supposed to be that elusive turning point, the weekend that marked freshman defenseman Kevin Lohan’s return from injury, when the now-healthy defense would work out its kinks, the offense would bury its chances and right the ship toward a postseason run.
But on Friday night at Yost Ice Arena, the No. 10 Michigan hockey team didn’t turn its mediocre season around — it took a turn for the worse.
With 42 second remaining in overtime, one final, fatal turnover secured Penn State’s second conference victory, 5-4 — its second win over the Wolverines in two weeks.
“You come to a place as special as this, the legacy and playing for (Michigan) coach (Red) Berenson,” said Michigan forward Andrew Copp. “and for us to be putting forth this effort with not even close to enough pride is absolutely unacceptable.
“It starts with me, it starts with Mac (Bennett) and Derek (DeBlois) and our seniors, and I think everyone knows this is flat out unacceptable.”
Michigan (6-6-1 Big Ten, 14-10-3 overall) needed to hold a lead for just two minutes and two seconds, but it couldn’t put the Big Ten’s bottom feeder away. Penn State (2-10-1, 6-19-2) scored the game-tying goal with 4.6 seconds remaining in regulation, erasing what looked to have been the go-ahead goal from junior forward Alex Guptill less than two minutes prior.
Guptill finished with a goal and an assist to lead the Wolverines while senior forward Derek DeBlois and junior forward Zach Hyman each added two assists.
“They were the hungrier team, you could see it,” Berenson said. “We gave them some life in the third period. We gave it away. They earned it, but we gave it away.”
Early this week, Berenson said he thought a home series against Wisconsin was the turning point for Michigan. But then the Wolverines lost one at Penn State and were swept in Minneapolis, and a five-game winning streak turned into a three-game losing one.
It was the second time Michigan’s writhing defense — without defenders Andrew Sinelli and Michigan Downing — had been burned in the third frame. With 16 minutes remaining, Penn State forward Dylan Richard scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game at three.
Though the defense as a unit struggled mightily, Lohan’s return was a positive for Michigan.
Back in uniform for the first time since suffering a knee injury on Nov. 2, Lohan held his own in his return. Lohan took part in the Wolverines’ first penalty kill and blocked four shots. Paired with senior Kevin Clare, his line combined for nine of Michigan’s 27 blocks.
But if nothing else, Friday proved that Lohan isn’t the only part of the solution for a defense, and offense, that needs a lot of solving.
After Copp connected well with freshman Tyler Motte in the first frame, Michigan wasted several grade-A chances in the second and was held scoreless in the frame. The result was apparent on the score sheet, as Penn State outshot the Wolverines, 44-36.
Meanwhile, Zach Nagelvoort forgave most of Michigan’s defensive miscues, stopping 28 shots through two periods. But with 35 seconds remaining in the second frame, the Nittany Lions roared back with a late power-play goal of their own, making it a one-goal game for the second time.
The freshman netminder completed 39 saves, despite allowing five goals.
“I was pleased with most of his game, but you can’t give up five goals and feel good about your overall defense or your goalie,” Berenson said.
Both the Wolverines and Nittany Lions have participated in 11 one-goal games this season, tied for 11th in the nation.
For fewer than 30 seconds, it looked as if perhaps this game wouldn’t be decided by a single tally, that Michigan would flex its offensive muscles in front of an energized crowd — until the defense broke down.
The offense scored two goals in less than one minute, snapping two scoreless streaks along the way. First, sophomore forward Boo Nieves, whose last goal came 24 games prior against the Rochester Institute of Technology, found twine for just the second time this season. Then, junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe tapped his own rebound in to secure an early 2-0 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the first period.
Twenty-four seconds later, Penn State scored its first tally of the night, and just like that it was a one-goal game again. Though Motte’s tally secured the two-goal, Michigan was outshot in the period, 14-9.
Despite their mistakes, the Wolverines undoubtedly had control in the first period, and were on pace to run up the score as they had in a 7-3 at State College two weeks ago.
What happened to the momentum?
“That’s a good question,” Berenson said. “When you have a lead at home, you should build on it.”