After a first place finish in the Icebreaker Tournament, No. 1 Michigan returned home to face No. 17 Western Michigan. The Wolverines proved they are human after all.
Everything that could’ve gone wrong, did. In the team’s first loss of the season, Michigan (4-1 overall) couldn’t fend off Western Michigan’s (3-0) dominant offensive performance, losing 2-5.
The Broncos took control in the opening minutes of the first period. Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo was heavily involved throughout, facing seven shots on goal. The Wolverines earned a power play five minutes into the period but couldn’t capitalize. The team tried to do too much individually and ultimately couldn’t deliver.
Mistakes hindered Michigan from taking control: playing the puck short, giveaways in the defensive zone and passing into teammates skates. The Wolverines’ lackadaisical play eventually led to Western Michigan finding sophomore defensemen Aidan Fulp on the blue line, shooting a one-timer and giving the Bronco’s the lead. The period ended in Western Michigan’s favor as Michigan went down 0-1.
“We didn’t compete as hard as we needed to,” senior defenseman Nick Blankenberg said. “It’s a learning experience for us. We’re going to learn from it and move on to tomorrow.”
The second period started where the Broncos left off. In the second minute a Western Michigan player whiffed a shot left of goal as another player crashed the net and scored. Michigan struggled to resist their opponents offensive pressure. The Broncos earned their first power of the night as freshman forward Samoskevich left the ice. The puck trickled across the line again as they earned their third goal off the power play.
“We needed to come in here and play a gritty, hard working game,” Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said. “We did not play with a work ethic. We made more mistakes tonight than we have in all four games combined.”
The Wolverines continued to try to outscore their mistakes. Off a broken play Samoskevich found freshman defenseman Luke Hughes at the back door and he buried it in the upper shelf. Western Michigan responded with a drop pass and shot top right for the goal.
Although not often, Michigan found themselves in front of the net. Sophomore defenseman Owen Powers had a look after a give and go. This was followed by an open shot on net from senior forward Jimmy Lambert. Yet the Broncos goaltender saved the shot and ended the period with 11 saves. The Wolverines went into the third down 1-4.
The damage was done. Michigan continued to search for its edge. It’s not uncommon for the Wolverines to start slow, but to not respond was out of character.
Late in the period sophomore forward Kent Johnson took control of the puck off a Hughes shot and shoved it past the goaltender. If anyone could come back from a three goal deficit, it was the Wolverines.
Yet no matter how hard they tried, the comeback stayed out of reach. Western Michigan scored again off the power play, handing the number one team in the country a 2-5 loss.
“We just didn’t handle the puck very well,” Pearson said. “We didn’t pass it very well. We tried to do too much individually and beat guys one on one. … Going forward you’re not going to win many games when you give up five goals.”
After a tough night for Michigan characterized by sloppy play and inability to respond early, its unbeaten streak ended.