By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 14, 2014
They pushed and they shoved, and after 60 minutes of gritty, evenly matched hockey, two of the nation’s most storied programs were deadlocked.
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Then, with three minutes remaining in overtime, a slashing penalty called on junior forward Derek DeBlois left the No. 14 Michigan hockey team shorthanded and ultimately with its third loss to No. 1 Minnesota, 3-2.
With the win, the Golden Gophers clinched the first regular-season Big Ten conference championship.
“They’re disappointed, obviously,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I mean you would be too if you gave everything you had, you played maybe your best game of the year, and you came up short, again.”
It was just the Wolverines second penalty on the night at time when they already looked tired and slow.
“We didn’t take many penalties, and that was a scoring-chance type play,” Berenson said. “Did we chop them a little bit? You know, there might have been other plays like that in the game that weren’t called, but I’m not going to question that.”
Much to the dismay of a lively crowd, both teams opted for defense over offense in the third period, shooting a combined eight times in fifteen minutes. Each shot became a rebound, and each rebound became another breakaway, but neither Michigan (9-8-2 Big Ten, 17-11-4 overall) nor Minnesota (14-2-3, 24-4-6) could break the tie.
Then, with five seconds remaining in regulation, Minnesota defenseman Brady Skjei — who scored the Golden Gophers’ first goal — took a pass with an open lane towards the net. He whiffed in front of the net, sending Michigan into its eighth overtime contest at Yost Ice Arena this season.
Junior forward Alex Guptill, who did not make the trip to Minneapolis in February, added five shots, finishing with five in the game. Meanwhile, on a line with DeBlois and freshman forward JT Compher, freshman Tyler Motte finished with added five shots and an assist.
As they had in the first period, the Wolverines came out firing in the second, challenging Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox off of breakaways and in traffic.
Through most of the period, when the Golden Gophers created some of their own momentum, Michigan’s defense — healthy and fully eligible for the first time since November — was there to steal it right back. The unit blocked 15 shots and went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill through two frames, leaving freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort to make 20 saves.
It wasn’t until the 17:42 that the crowd was silenced, as Nagelvoort surrendered a second goal, this time to forward Justin Kloos who fired over the netminder’s shoulder to tie the game.
Facing Minnesota for the first time, Nagelvoort looked undaunted. After letting a shot from Golden Gophers defenseman Brady Skjei sail past him into the boards, Nagelvoort made a glorious left-pad save to prevent Minnesota from scoring on the power play. Then, early in the third period, he made a seemingly impossible save with his toe, preserving the 2-2 score. The freshman tallied 24 saves on the night and allowed 3 goals.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first period, sophomore forward Andrew Copp secured the Wolverines’ first lead over the Golden Gophers since junior forward Andrew Sinelli’s score less than two minutes into the teams’ last matchup.
“You kind of saw something similar to our first game of the year against (Boston College),” Copp said. “I think we were relentless on the forecheck, coming back and coming back, taking away that time and space. The way we played tonight is the way we should be playing every night. It’s playoff hockey.”
Early in the frame, Michigan tallied seven shots to Minnesota’s one, fighting to get men down low in front of Wilcox. And when the Wolverines did allow a rare shot to the Golden Gophers, an quick-to-react defense was ready to turn a rebound into another scoring opportunity. Down 1-0, freshman forward Evan Allen put Michigan’s eighth shot into the net at the 7:30 mark off the faceoff to tie the game at one.
With the loss, Michigan is at even greater risk of missing out on an NCAA tournament appearance for a second straight year. The Wolverines will likely need a win tomorrow to avoid a situation where they’re forced to win an at-large big at the Big Ten Championship.
If nothing else, Friday’s matchup proved that this team can compete with the best teams in the country. Michigan’s intensity tomorrow, though, will decide if it gets the chance to.
“I liked our defense, I liked our goalie, I liked our team,” Berenson said. “If we played like that every night, we wouldn’t be where we are.”