A little over 10 minutes into the first period, Notre Dame defenseman Nick Leivermann received a pass above the right circle and fired a wrister past junior goaltender Strauss Mann. 

For the third straight game, the Wolverines had surrendered the first goal. It turned out to be a crucial one in Friday’s 3-2 loss at Yost Ice Arena, as it allowed the Fighting Irish to lean more heavily on their gritty, defensive style of play. 

Central to that strategy was Notre Dame’s signature neutral zone trap. By pressuring Michigan’s offense as it worked to cross center ice, the Irish forced several neutral zone turnovers and made clean zone entries difficult for the Wolverines. In doing so, they pushed Michigan into adopting a dump-and-chase mentality that disrupted its offensive rhythm and created more frustration.

“We know what they do. They play their little ticky-tack trap,” Michigan senior forward Michael Pastujov said. “We’ve just got to focus on getting pucks behind them. We’ve got a young core, so this is the first time a lot of guys saw Notre Dame and how they play.”

And with that frustration, mistakes abounded. Six minutes into the second period, junior defenseman Jack Summers pulled a puck out of the corner in the defensive zone and chipped it in front of his own goal toward junior forward Nolan Moyle — not seeing Notre Dame forward Landon Slaggert closing out on the play. Slaggert intercepted the pass, and the puck found its way to Irish defenseman Nate Clurman, who buried the wrist shot and extended the lead to 2-0. 

Moments later, another mistake — this time from freshman forward Matty Beniers — brought Michigan’s deficit to three. While entering the offensive zone, Beniers tried to sneak past Notre Dame forward Max Ellis. The deke failed, and Ellis forwarded the puck to Irish forward Grant Silianoff, who converted on the breakaway opportunity. 

After pulling within two at the end of the second period, the Wolverines finally broke through the trap in the game’s final frame. Catching Notre Dame in the midst of a change, Summers fired the puck from the defensive zone to senior forward Michael Pastujov at the opposing blue line, who faked the pass and snuck the puck into the net. 

“We wanted to transition,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We didn’t want to let them get set up in that trap — that’s the way you beat it — and I think you saw that on the second goal (from) Mike Pastujov.”

The Wolverines are a young team, and they showed their youth when trying to deal with the Irish’s trap Friday. For nearly two periods, Notre Dame kept Michigan’s high-powered offense completely at bay — a feat that neither Arizona State nor Wisconsin could pull off in the two previous weeks. 

But despite the loss, the Wolverines found their way through their offensive frustrations in the third period. Though it wasn’t enough to win on Friday, the late push showed that tough defensive schemes aren’t insurmountable for Michigan’s young roster. 

“Quick transition, move the puck quickly, then get it up ice — we’re gonna have to do more of that tomorrow when we have a chance,” Pearson said. “(And) use our transition game and try not to let them get set up.”

Added Pastujov: “Now that a lot of guys have seen (the trap), I think tomorrow we’ll be more accustomed to it and be able to get pucks in deep.”