EAST LANSING — It took just under two minutes for the game to completely slip away.

In those brief 104 seconds, the Michigan hockey team collapsed. 

But it wouldn’t show immediately. Entering the second period, the Wolverines were riding a wave of momentum. They showed no signs of having surrendered a goal in the opening minutes of the first period. Their play was sharp. The offense displayed urgency. Every puck that connected with a Michigan stick went towards the net. 

“We were all over them,” said senior defenseman Griffin Luce. “They couldn’t hang with us, they couldn’t play with us. They get the first goal there and I think we did a pretty good job answering. They didn’t know what hit them.”

But no matter how potent their second-period start was, there was still the fact that the first goal, scored in the opening minutes, was, ultimately, the game-winner.

When Luce was asked about the team’s response to the early goal, he pointed to the team’s intensity in the second period. But there was still 18 minutes between the goal and the “strong response” unaccounted for. Because in those 18 minutes, there was little to point to. 

Little improvement. Little upswing in intensity. Little response to show for a team that needs to start learning to handle the adversity it faces. 

Because as quickly as everything seemed to be going right for the Wolverines in the second period, everything began to go wrong.

It started with senior forward Nick Pastujov losing a faceoff in the defensive zone. Michigan State forward Adam Goodsir won the draw and slid the puck behind him to forward Austin Kamer. Kamer released the puck within a second of receiving it, connected with the back of the net and then the buzzer sounded. 

Michigan had fallen into a 2-0 deficit, but the bleeding didn’t stop.

Immediately after the goal, there was no pushback, similar to the 18 minutes after the first Spartan goal. The Wolverines seemed deflated, and more obviously, frustrated.

Sticks were slammed. Heads were shaken. It didn’t matter that almost half the game still remained, Michigan was playing like a team that had already lost. And rather than responding immediately to Michigan State’s second goal — exactly what the Wolverines had failed to after falling behind 1-0 — they faltered.

“They just fought a little harder in those gritty areas to score those goals,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “That’s what (we’ve been) talking about. We’ve got to play a little harder there.”

The lack of response by the Wolverines resulted in an even stronger push from Michigan State.

One minute later, Spartan forward Jagger Joshua pushed the puck past freshman defenseman Keaton Pherson to gain the offensive zone. Joshua fired a rising shot towards the net, but freshman forward Johnny Beecher batted the puck out of the air.

Beecher’s play was followed by a scramble for the puck in front of the net, and sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann was forced to make a series of saves. One of the saves left him vulnerable, Mann was stomach down on the ice, sprawled across his crease. 

When the puck came found the stick of Michigan State forward Tommy Apap, it was too easy. The net was wide open, and he buried the puck top shelf.

The game had gone from bad to worse to over. The Wolverines had fallen into a three-goal hole they were unable to climb out of against the Spartans. 

The team was rattled because for the first time in a string of games, Michigan’s biggest problem wasn’t their offense — it was everything.

And the response to the third goal wasn’t a rally or a harder press or anything effort-based. It was a personnel change. Trying to provide a spark for his team, Pearson pulled Mann from goal and replaced him with senior goaltender Hayden Lavigne, who had yet to see ice time in a game this season. Pearson followed the swap with a timeout to regroup the team.

“It just gives a little boost there for us,” Luce said. “It just gets guys on their toes a little bit. So we can go and get right back on it. He’s coming in cold so you never wanna give him any chances early right away.”

But it didn’t have the effect Pearson intended. In the wake of those two goals, the Wolverines would never regain control of the game, and there were no shortage of chances to do so.

The opening two minutes of the game, and the 104-second stretch of play in the second period had done too much damage, and Michigan showed just how incapable it is of immediately responding to falling behind in a game. 

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