Undefeated and scoring at will: Through four games, it was a dream start for the Michigan hockey team. 

Notre Dame didn’t care about that. 

A pair of losses against the Fighting Irish this weekend became a sobering reminder for the Wolverines that in order to achieve their championship aspirations, there’s going to be some bumps in the road. 

“Every day you play in the Big Ten is a battle,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Even when you play well, youre not going to win some nights.”

The games against Notre Dame were by no means disastrous. The Wolverines allowed just five goals between the two of them, including an empty netter, and were locked in defensively all weekend. They played disciplined hockey and committed just two penalties, an area of struggle from the first four games. But on the other end of the ice, the offense went quiet. The same offense that raced out to 18 goals in its first four games mustered just three against the Fighting Irish. 

“We got to get our power play going and just get shots through and get people to the net,” Pearson said. “We wanted to play on the perimeter too much.”

Michigan looked out of sorts offensively, clearly frustrated by Notre Dame’s neutral zone trap. It couldn’t sustain as much offensive zone pressure as it had in previous matchups and did not hold a lead at any point during the two games. 

The Wolverines had several breakaway opportunities, none of which they could cash in on. These performances juxtapose the crisp passes and relentless scoring that featured prominently against Wisconsin and Arizona State. With Notre Dame, Michigan just couldn’t find a way to convert. 

“We weren’t gonna go undefeated,” senior forward Michael Pastujov said. “We’re gonna drop one every now and then and as long as you don’t wallow in your losses, you learn from them.” 

Added Pearson: “We didn’t get any (breaks) this weekend and that’s hockey. Some weekends, you’re not going to get them.”

A lot of things did not come as easily as they had in the previous two matchups, but with a team this young, there were bound to be some growing pains. It will be on the leadership group to keep the ship on course.  

“It can definitely be frustrating at times,” junior goaltender Strauss Mann said. “But our team identity is just try to stick with it and stay with the process.”

Mann had a solid weekend, making 44 saves in total and largely shutting down the Fighting Irish offense. But against Notre Dame, Michigan failed to defend shots from the point and a few were able to hit home. 

The Wolverines don’t want to make a habit of losing, but a couple early season defeats could be valuable. If the team can work through this adversity now, they’ll be more prepared for the postseason — where they hope to make a habit of winning. 

“I’d rather have learning experiences when you win,” Pearson said. “But I think any situation, any game, is a good learning experience.”

 

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