Strauss Mann crouched in the crease, ready to face shots and waiting for the puck to drop. Within seconds, Clarkson forward Nick Campoli beat freshman defenseman Keaton Pehrson off the edge and threatened to score.
And without any signs of tension or difficulty, Mann calmly reached out to stop the puck. On the ensuing faceoff, the Golden Knights got another chance, and again, Mann was there to make the save — the second of his 30 total saves on the night.
“A-plus,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson when asked to rate Mann’s performance. “He was excellent.”
In a game where the Wolverines struggled early to get scoring opportunities of their own, having Mann to backstop the defense was important to give them a chance to win. While No. 11 Clarkson ended up forcing a 1-1 tie after overtime, it was Mann’s performance that kept Michigan in the game.
From the early moments of the opening period, Mann was tested by the Golden Knights. It didn’t help that the Wolverines took multiple penalties and gave up a five-on-three opportunity when senior defenseman Griffin Luce was called for cross-checking while Michigan was already on the penalty kill.
Even in a high-pressure situation Mann appeared relaxed in the crease. With three key saves, one after the next, Mann aided the Wolverines’ penalty kill in getting out of the five-on-three unscathed.
But moments later, as the power play from Luce’s penalty continued, defenseman Shane Kuzmeski sent a pass from the top of the left faceoff circle to forward Josh Dunne, who was waiting on the doorstep. All it took was a quick tip from Dunne to send the puck past Mann for Clarkson’s first — and only — goal of the night.
And after that one play, Mann dialed in even further and didn’t give up many rebound opportunities or scoring chances to the Golden Knights.
“I thought Strauss kept us in the game,” Luce said. “We had a couple bad turnovers and he made some huge saves when he needed to make timely saves. But overall, I thought he played great. He kept us in the game, gave us a chance to win tonight. You let in one goal, you have a pretty good chance to win every night.”
Mann finished the game with only one goal allowed and a .968 save percentage — the best performance in a game he’s started at Michigan.
Caveats apply that this is a sample size of one game and that Clarkson plays a very different style of hockey than the Wolverines will face in the Big Ten. Where the Big Ten is quick, offense-focused and dynamic, the Golden Knights play a structured, grinding style of hockey. Their approach is defense-first, while Big Ten teams like Penn State put their focus on the offensive zone.
All of that to say, Mann’s performance against Clarkson may not directly translate to his performance in the heart of the conference schedule. It was a different team with a different style and an offense that is slower paced than most Michigan will see this year.
But even with those caveats applied, it was clear that Mann was ready for the starting job on Friday night. He rarely — if ever — looked rattled in the crease, and his saves frequently electrified the crowd at Yost Ice Arena.
“He was great,” said senior forward Will Lockwood. “First game in for a goalie, you never know what you’re going to get, and he came in and was rock solid. That was absolutely crucial for our team, and that was the reason we snuck out with the tie there.”