Michael Pastujov held the puck at the Michigan hockey team’s own blue line when he noticed Luke Morgan streaking through the neutral zone. The senior forward delivered a perfect tape-to-tape pass, just out of the reach of two Notre Dame players, sending Morgan on a breakaway. With only the goaltender to beat, Morgan had a golden opportunity to give the Wolverines their first lead of the weekend.
But Morgan couldn’t convert. Fighting Irish goaltender Ryan Bischel got just enough of the shot to deflect it wide, squashing Michigan’s best chance of the night.
Missed opportunities, like Morgan’s, were a constant for the Wolverines. In a game that remained scoreless until just over two minutes were left, Michigan’s inability to convert loomed large, eventually resulting in a 2-1 defeat.
“We had some really good looks when it was a tie game and had a chance to go ahead,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We just couldn’t find the handle tonight.”
The Wolverines had trouble generating scoring chances all weekend. Notre Dame’s stifling neutral zone trap gave Michigan trouble bringing the puck through the neutral zone, resulting in less offensive zone time than it had in its first four games.
“They play a very disciplined style of hockey,” junior goaltender Strauss Mann said. “That’s pretty obvious every time we play them. Good defense. They make it really tough on you and they get pucks deep and play tough, gritty hockey.”
With so few opportunities, it was imperative that the Wolverines converted when they found themselves with high-danger chances.
On Saturday, Michigan improved in the neutral zone, but still struggled to get to the net. Even when the Wolverines did, they couldn’t convert. Freshman forward Kent Johnson had a rebound roll off his stick in front of an open net. Pastujov batted a rebound out of mid-air an inch wide of the right post. Freshman forward Brendan Brisson had a backhand swallowed up by Bischel alone in front of the net.
“I thought their goaltender was excellent,” Pearson said. “He didn’t see a lot of traffic or a lot of grade A’s. You’re not going to get many, but when you get those few chances you’re gonna have to take advantage of them.”
The biggest problem for Pearson was not that Michigan wasn’t finding the back of the net on its prime opportunities, but that his players didn’t make enough of an effort to challenge Bischel.
“I don’t think we shot as much as we should have,” Pearson said. “We looked for the perfect play, and those weren’t going to be there this weekend.
“We wanted to play on the perimeter too much tonight, so we’re gonna have to get to the net.”
With less than a minute left, the Wolverines did just what Pearson wanted. Morgan found freshman defenseman Jacob Truscott open at the point and Truscott ripped a one-timer past Bischel, with senior forward Jack Becker providing a screen in front of the net. But it was too little, too late. Michigan was still down a goal, its inability to convert earlier in the game magnified even more.
“Moving forward we just got to stick with it … because obviously we’ve shown we can score goals,” Mann said. “That will come … as long as we stick to the game plan and get to the net and play gritty hockey.”