The phase where a loss at any moment could place an abrupt end to the Michigan hockey team’s season. And when that moment finally comes, it will mark the end of a chapter for the Wolverines’ seniors, a turning point in each of their lives.
That goal put the Michigan hockey team (18-14-4 overall, 12-10-3-2 Big Ten) up by two and fueled the Wolverines to a 3-0 win over Michigan State (15-19-2, 11-12-2), Saturday night at Yost Ice Arena. And with the victory, a Michigan team once left for dead advanced to the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Friday was the fifth meeting between the two this season. Lethemon certainly had the upper hand in the opening series in mid November, while his team walked away with the sweep. He tallied a 95.9 percent save rate that weekend while Mann blocked just 83.3 percent of his shots. Mann even got pulled for senior goaltender Hayden Lavigne in the latter game, after giving up three goals on 12 shots in the first two periods.
It started with two friends having a conversation.
A young Jake Slaker and his father, Dirk, were in Toronto for a summer hockey tournament. Jake’s passion for the sport was surging and Dirk wanted to nourish it — he just needed the right advice from someone who’d been there, done it before.
Michigan tried to fight back by pulling Mann in the final minutes, but the efforts fell short. The Fighting Irish notched an empty-net goal, and thus the Wolverines fell, 3-0. The loss marked the second in a row and a change in momentum after what has been a surging second half performance.
And behind the Wolverines’ fortune was Strauss Mann.
Despite Michigan’s 4-1 win, the sophomore goaltender’s stellar performance was critical. He faced 32 shots and saved all but one. There were moments Monday where it seemed he could stop just about anything.
The past two weekends — more than any others — exemplified the importance of winning faceoffs for the Michigan hockey team. The Wolverines won a couple key faceoffs, at home against No. 13 Ohio State and Wisconsin, that helped fuel wins. With freshman forward Johnny Beecher out during last Friday’s game due to a one-game suspension, the lines were changed up a bit. For the first time, the combination of senior forward Jake Slaker, freshman forward Nick Granowicz and Lambert found its way onto the ice. While hosting Wisconsin, Michigan significantly limited its penalties. Heading into the weekend, the Wolverines were averaging 8.96 penalty minutes a night. That figure wasn’t too much of an issue due to the group’s skillful penalty kill unit.
But then Hayhurst seamlessly brought the puck back in and across to finish the job. That goal widened the Michigan hockey team’s lead to three goals in an eventual 5-3 victory over Wisconsin (10-17-1 overall, 5-14-1-1 Big Ten). The victory helped the Wolverines (13-12-3 overall, 8-8-2-1 Big Ten) seal their second sweep of the new year.