There are often question marks for a team after a successful bout — especially with the Michigan hockey team.
Throughout the season, every time the Wolverines have started to be successful, they have fallen under the trap of losing focus and taking things for granted.
When Michigan beat St. Lawrence on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 for its first weekend sweep of the season, the team went on to lose, 5-2, to Lake Superior State the following weekend. Sophomore Michael Pastujov noted they weren’t ready going into that matchup.
So the big question for the Wolverines, after they beat the Fighting Irish, 2-1, Friday, was if Michigan would come out just as hungry in its rematch with No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday.
The answer was no, as the Fighting Irish dominated the Wolverines, 6-2.
But it didn’t start that way. To begin the game, Michigan didn’t skip a step from their game the day before, going aggressively to the net and playing equally as physical. Junior forward Lockwood opened the period with a shot on net after initiating a well-crafted attack to set the tone. The shot didn’t go in, but it was a warning for Notre Dame to be ready.
And soon after, senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi drew a penalty. The Wolverines saw success on the power play Friday, converting its first two chances, and tonight was no different.
In the dwindling stretches of the power play, sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes shot a pass towards traffic. Lockwood, who was in the midst of battling for position, tipped the puck and created the early 1-0 lead.
“ I thought we were really ready to play tonight,” Pearson said. “I thought great start, one of the best starts maybe we had this year. We were all over them, created some great scoring opportunities, didn’t give them much.”
Michigan, which won the shot battle to that point, then began to loosen up defensively. Notre Dame found position down ice and shot on goal that was saved by junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne. He was unable to corral the rebound, though, and a follow-up shot occurred. The Fighting Irish skater had an open-net opportunity due to Lavigne being out of position from the initial save. But with a quick lunge, Lavigne stuffed the shot attempt and cleared the puck.
The goaltending heroics ended shortly after that.
On a Notre Dame push, Cecconi blocked a shot attempt but couldn’t locate the puck afterward. Using the moment of lapse to their advantage, Notre Dame located the puck and took a shot on net. The puck leaked between Lavigne’s legs but laid just on the crease. Fighting Irish Alex Steeve was the first to see the puck and hammered it home to tie the game.
Less than two minutes later, Notre Dame scored its second goal, this time on a breakaway. In a one-on-one situation for Lavigne, the goaltender simply couldn’t stop the shot that was well maneuvered. A simple fake to the left and an upward-right flick was all it took to take the lead for the Fighting Irish.
Notre Dame dictated the pace from then onward. The only saving grace for Michigan was the period ending.
The hope after a poorly-played period is always that the momentum resets at the start of the next. Saturday, it wasn’t the case, as the Fighting Irish scored four more unanswered goals.
With that deficit, the Wolverines would have to jump on any chance they could get. And toward the end of the period, they drew a five-on-three situation, a chance to turn the sinking ship around.
The lack of a goal on a two-man advantage might have been the last nail on the coffin. The frustration showed but the lack of action was just as equally visible.
“We got to understand that it’s a full sixty-minute game,” Pearson said. “And especially at the end of the period and at the start of the period, you have to be ready to go. Their goals, we couldn’t buy any tonight, and they were going in for them in some crazy ways tonight and that’s game. Some nights you’re going to have that.”
And the biggest evidence came briefly after when the Wolverines conceded their sixth goal of the game.
“Again, we gave up two goals within two minutes to end the first,” Pearson said. “And then we gave up three goals in four minutes to start the second period. And that was the game.”
Michigan got a consolation goal from freshman defenseman Nick Blankenburg, but it was not close to enough to make things interesting.
“We talked about a standard of play,” Pearson said. “There’s a certain standard of play that we need to have each and every night here at Michigan and I think they just got back to that. I think once you chase a game and you get behind, you have a tendency to get away, try to do some things maybe too individualistic instead of trying to stay within the team concept.”