By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 28, 2014
The question entering the weekend’s series against Ohio State wasn’t if the Michigan hockey team’s defense could slow down the nation’s seventh-ranked offense, but rather if its offense could keep up.
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Friday’s contest showed that the answer was a no.
The 13th-ranked Wolverines lost 1-0 in a shootout to the Buckeyes after a 2-2 tie but remain in third place in the Big Ten.
Junior forward Alex Guptill had two goals to lead Michigan, while freshman netminder Zach Nagelvoort made 24 saves.
Neither sophomore Andrew Copp, senior Luke Moffatt nor Guptill could find twine in the shootout. Ohio State’s Alex Szczhechura scored the winner in the shootout with a flick of the wrist that sent the puck over the shoulder of Nagelvoort.
With just under four minutes remaining in the third period, Guptill scored on a rebound attempt after his initial shot from in front of the crease to tie the game at two. The goal sent the Wolverines to overtime, where the Wolverines were unable to bury one of three chances in the final 20 seconds of the extra frame.
Ohio State’s (5-6-4-3 Big Ten, 15-10-4 overall) forecheck was relentless all night, capitalizing on the absence of senior defenseman Mac Bennett to injury. The Buckeyes kept the puck forward all night and rarely gave Michigan (7-6-2-1, 15-10-4) time to set up on offense.
“We were maybe just not as sharp with the puck and maybe not as sharp without the puck,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Give them credit — they're a good team and they played a good road game. They didn't let us get going. We're the home team — we've got to get going.”
Added Guptill: “They're really good offensively, and that starts with their forecheck. They're a speedy team, so getting those pucks out quickly is going to help us in the next game.”
Just five minutes in, Ohio State forward Chad Niddery weaved through the slow-to-react defense and found an untouched Nick Schilkey to Nagelvoort’s left for the first goal.
When the Wolverines did have their chances, they came on the power play. Switching to a 1-3-1 formation with the extra man — where the given defenseman remains back by the blue while four forwards line across the circles — Michigan was able to get more pucks to the net.
The Wolverines went 0-for-6 on the power play but found a majority of the team’s 37 shots with an extra man.
“I think we have to do a better job of getting bodies and pucks collapsing to the net when we have chances,” said senior forward Derek DeBlois. “We just have to stay positive and look forward to Sunday.”
But it wasn’t until the end of the first period at even strength that the Wolverines found any real success. Guptill rushed through the defense to beat Buckeye netminder Matt Tomkins five hole.
The game otherwise felt like a tale of two halves. Midway through the second period, with a break in the action for a timeout, the Michigan bench turned its head to the scoreboard and noticed the stark difference in shots. The realization provided a spark for the remainder of the game for Guptill and the rest of the Wolverines.
Guptill returned to action Friday after he was a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s contest against Penn State for what Berenson deemed a subpar performance the night prior.
“I thought he played hard (tonight),” Berenson said. “One of his best games of the year. He showed up on the score sheet and he showed up on loose pucks and won battles and won races and played much better.”
The power play set back Michigan in the second period, though, when Nagelvoort made an initial stop on a shot from the point but couldn’t corral the deflection. Waiting near the crease, Ohio State’s Szczhechura swooped in to break the tie.
But ultimately, it was the failure to find offensive success when it counted that really doomed the Wolverines and ultimately cost them three points.