Johnny Beecher had a foot off the ice and into the tunnel leading to the locker room.
The freshman forward had just been thrown out of the game for headbutting another player in a scuffle. When he got fully off the ice, he turned to the referee right as the he was closing the door behind him and launched into his tirade.
What he shouted couldn’t be heard floors above the ice, or even rows away from his tantrum. But the nearest fans inches to him caught one word — “bullshit,” they recalled him saying.
And then, as he stormed through the tunnel and out of sight, a sound no one could miss rang around Yost Ice Arena. A crack of a stick, being slammed against something hard. He was angry, and he wanted everyone to know.
And there was a reason for it. It was a close game, and his absence would make a difference. He is currently tied for third on the team for point total with 12 and takes part in all phases of the game: power play, penalty kill and even strength. He manned Michigan’s most productive line pointwise, which included senior forward and captain Will Lockwood.
And instead of being on the ice, he was in the locker room — sitting and waiting for the remainder of the game to unravel.
Afterwords, as the rest of the team trickled in after a tiring 4-1 loss to the Buckeyes, he came up to Lockwood and tried to apologize. But Lockwood shut him down quickly.
“I said, ‘There’s no reason to apologize, emotions get the best of you,’ ” Lockwood explained. “He was just coming in, trying to defend me.
“As a linemate, that’s all you can ask from a guy, so there’s no apology needed there.”
The comforting came from heart; Lockwood knew all too well the sinking feeling of a costly ejection against Ohio State. He had done the same just last year — he let Beecher know that too. But the difference there was that Lockwood was thrown out in the midst of a double-overtime period, which concluded shortly afterwards.
Beecher’s ejection came just over two minutes into the second period, leaving a lot of the game left to be played short staffed. And that problem was only magnified after Michael Pastujov obtained an upper body injury midway through the second period.
But the final nail in the coffin came with four minutes left in the second period. Garrett Van Wyhe collided against an Ohio State skater and raised his two balled-up fists to the skater’s helmet. He, subsequently, was thrown out as well.
“We lost three forwards,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “So we were down to 10 forwards in the game, and those guys had a lot of ice time.”
The effects of the ejections couldn’t be seen right away. In fact, following Beecher’s ejection, the Wolverines killed off the Buckeyes’ man-advantage and scored a goal of their own to make it 2-1.
But when Van Wyhe was called for a game misconduct, cracks in Michigan’s forward depth started to show. The Wolverines were already forced to kill off ten minutes worth of penalties from those ejections, but to make matters worse, arguably Michigan’s best penalty killer in Van Wyhe was scaling the stairs to the locker room, as the Wolverines were forced to fend off another five-minute man-disadvantage.
The irony of it all is that the fact that Michigan could only send four players to the ice during that time might have prevented an earlier collapse. But the collapse did come.
Each line plays a shift that usually lasts one or two minutes. Once that threshold hits they take the next opening for a line change.
But after killing two five-minute majors where each unit had two or more minutes of ice time, the forwards started to get run to the ground. Production aside, that’s where losing Beecher and Van Wyhe hurt the most. The makeshift lines started to see overlap, where a few of the skaters had back-to-back shifts or would go back out with little rest in between.
But there really was no other choice. There were only 10 forwards.
And halfway through the third period, Pearson started to recognize the fatigue. The extra shifts began taking their toll.
“I thought we had some good push there,” Pearson said. “And then about halfway through, we just hit the wall.
“And then when they scored, it just, it’s like letting the air out of the balloon.”
It was the final period in the second night of a back-to-back, and the exhaustion was starting to show, even if the players didn’t notice. Adrenaline was keeping them going, physically and mentally. But Pearson noticed, as did the Buckeyes, who took advantage of the fatigue to widen the gap.
It wasn’t solely exhaustion that crashed the parade, either. Line combinations also played a part.
“Centers kinda hold the line together,” Lockwood said.
And the Wolverines had lost two of their best.
So Pearson had to piece together provisional lines, putting at least two forwards who have skated together before on a line and hoped the chemistry and fit was there.
“You just went on a hunch,” Pearson said. “Just trying to create some good defense but at the same time, some guys who can work together and create some opportunities.”
The lines that were put out did create chances, outshooting Ohio State 11-7 in the third period. But the challenge of being under-manned was too much to overcome. There was no next man up, with two men out.
“It’s physical,” Pearson said. “It was draining on those players.”
And that’s just how ejections go.