Through nearly two periods of play, No. 1 Michigan (10-2-1, 5-1-1 Big Ten) and No. 14 Notre Dame (9-3-0, 3-2-0 Big Ten) were deadlocked at zero. It was 40 minutes of physical, hard-hitting dump-and-chase hockey, with neither team giving an inch.
Then, sophomore forward Brendan Brisson did what he does best: score goals. His 9th tally of the year gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead, one that they could not preserve in a 3-2 overtime loss Friday night. Michigan blew a 2-0 third period lead, letting three points slip from its grasp and falling in its first overtime appearance of the season.
“It just seemed like we got away from our game,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We took our foot off the gas a little bit and they stepped up their play. We talked about changing momentum… Whether you score or give up a goal, how you need to play those next few shifts.”
Early on, the Wolverines were extra tight on the defensive end. They didn’t allow many quality looks for Notre Dame, that was until sophomore defenseman Owen Power whiffed on a shot.
Michigan was threatening to score in the first period, continuously giving up good shots for even better ones. However, when Power lost his handle on the puck, Fighting Irish forward and captain Graham Slaggertattacked, finding himself all alone on sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo. Power’s partner on the blue line, sophomore Steve Holtz, came flying in out of nowhere and broke up the breakaway. Holtz’s stellar backcheck preserved the scoreless tie, paving the way for Michigan to grab the lead later in the game.
Notre Dame was adamant about shutting down Michigan’s dynamic offense. Oftentimes, they would have four or five skaters hovering around their own blue line. This type of neutral zone trap prevented easy entries for the Wolverines, but they still found a way to create scoring chances. Thanks to forechecking efforts by grinder forwards like junior Johnny Beecher and senior Nolan Moyle, Michigan kept the puck in the Fighting Irish defensive zone for much of the first two periods.
“Notre Dame does a real good job (physically),” Pearson said. “They hit everything and they really lined it up against us. I thought we got away from that in the third period, we just didn’t have that forechecking presence that we needed to hem them in.”
Going into the third period, the Wolverines led by only one but were not satisfied with a single-goal margin. Five minutes into the period, Brisson returned the favor to sophomore forward Matty Beniers. Beniers was situated in Brisson’s regular power play office on the right side of the ice. Brisson played a cross-ice pass, Beniers collected it, waited and ripped a shot into the twine.
Now up by two, all Michigan had to do was survive the final 15 minutes. This proved to be easier said than done.
“I think we kinda shied away from our game and played a little bit more passive than we should have,” Beniers said.
Notre Dame was desperate for a score and before the announcer could finish the update on Beniers’ goal, the deficit was cut in half. The Fighting Irish were tough on the forecheck and were rewarded with a wide-open look in Portillo’s crease.
Just 10 minutes later, they struck again, evening the score at two.
Suddenly, the Wolverines’ two-goal had evaporated into thin air. The final minutes of regulation were tightly contested but ultimately, overtime was needed.
Pearson started with three of his superstars — Beniers and Power were joined by fellow sophomore forward Kent Johnson. The line was cautious with the puck and was oftentimes content to reset outside of the offensive zone. The game appeared destined for a shootout until senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe was charged with a game misconduct for a hit from behind.
“Bad penalty,” Pearson said. “You just can’t take that with three-on-three, it reverts to a four-on-three powerplay.”
With the gifted penalty, Notre Dame did not waste any time converting. A nice passing play resulted in an open look for forward Ryder Rolston, who slotted home the game-winner.
It was a disappointing loss for Michigan as it vied for its fifth-straight win. Tomorrow night, they will have an opportunity to avoid a home sweep, a fate that seemed unlikely after last weekend’s dominance at Penn State.