For weeks, the No. 12 Michigan hockey team has been unable to close out a third period. And despite an eventful first two periods against Penn State filled with goal scoring, the third period came at the expense of multiple Wolverines due to injury.
While Michigan (6-5-2 overall, 2-3-2 Big Ten) was able to finally close out the game while battling the Nittany Lions (5-4-3, 0-2-3), winning 6-4, it wasn’t pretty — three Wolverines exited the game due to major injuries.
“It’s just important to stay positive on the bench,” senior forward Phillipe Lapointe said. “Finish out that game for (the injured players). Obviously we’re light in numbers on the bench, but just have to stay composed and try to finish out that game, even though it’s tough seeing your brothers go down like that.”
From the puck-drop, Michigan came out aggressive. Within the first two minutes, in a haze at the netfront, Lapointe clutched his first goal of the season by redirecting a shot and tucking it behind Penn State goaltender Noah Grannan. A few minutes later, sophomore forward Gavin Brindley was granted a penalty shot and tricked Grannan by skating directly at him before skating to the right and tapping it in.
Shortly after Brindley’s goal, the Nittany Lions came back even more aggressive, breaking the brick wall of graduate goaltender Jake Barczewski to cut their deficit in half. Forward Mark Estapa was injured in the process. In an attempt to skate back and defend Penn State’s breakaway, Estapa collided with a Nittany Lion player and skated off the ice, limping in pain, and did not return for the rest of the game.
Estapa’s injury meant Michigan lost a force in both his face-off success and forechecking abilities, but it turned out to be the first of multiple injuries on the night.
Similar to the first period, Michigan came out swinging in the second, continuing its success at the netfront. Typically junior forward Dylan Duke’s resident goal spot, the netfront provided the Wolverines success on the night. In the first two minutes, sophomore forward Frank Nazar III rebounded the puck off a shot and backhanded it into the goal, and Duke fulfilled the path his teammates paved for him all night by scoring in his favorite spot — now his team’s favorite — at the netfront.
The third period started off uneventful, but became anything but that.
The majority of the period went scoreless for both teams, emphasizing a heavily defensive game. However, it turned chippy when Nittany Lion forward Chase McClane knocked out Duke. Duke skated up the ice to retrieve a pass from senior forward Jacob Truscott, but as Duke got rid of the puck, Penn State forward Chase McLane skated at Duke and knocked him down. While he was able to skate off to the locker room and the Nittany Lions received a five-minute major, Duke’s injury was a major loss.
Things then took a turn for the worse when sophomore forward Rutger McGroarty took a hard hit. McGroarty skated up the ice and took an unbalanced shot, all his weight on his left skate. After taking the shot, a Penn State player hit McGroarty, sending him in an awkward position into the boards. Unable to stand on his own after hitting the boards, EMT’s came onto the ice and carried him off in a stretcher.
Following the moment, Yost went silent, and remained so for the rest of the game.
“I think we came together,” sophomore Seamus Casey said. “It was a close finish at the end. Just tough, we hate to see it, it’s part of the game, and just hoping they’re alright.”
With McGroarty, Duke and Estapa injured, Michigan could feel its disadvantage from the lack of forward depth. But it did something it’s been struggling with — finish out the game.
The game became more physically aggressive, with both teams feeling the pressure of the injuries and retaliating with scrums. As sophomore Josh Eernisse got a five-minute major in a scrum, the Wolverines finished with only nine of its 13 forwards able to play and the team was strapped for energy. But in the last 18 seconds, while Penn State had an empty net, Schifsky cleared the puck into the goal and cemented the win.
“Just surviving,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said following the win. “Shorthanded surviving.”
Scrums and injuries highlighted the third period and forced the Wolverines to face adversity. With Estapa, Duke and McGroarty all leaving the game on injuries, the series finale looms over Yost after a third period filled with detrimental injuries.