SOUTH BEND — When Michigan and Notre Dame last met on Friday night, the result was a dominating win for the Wolverines.
As the No. 3 Michigan hockey team jumped out to a two-goal lead in the first period on Saturday, it looked to be more of the same. But the Wolverines (9-3-0 overall, 2-2-0 Big Ten) soon took their foot off the gas, as a strong 20 minutes turned into a few costly mistakes, and an early lead became a 3-2 overtime loss to the Fighting Irish (5-5-2, 2-3-1).
“We’ve got to play a full 60 (minutes), we know that,” sophomore defenseman Ethan Edwards said. “I don’t know if the legs just weren’t there today, but there were too many ups and downs in this game.”
Michigan started on an up.
The Wolverines spent plenty of time in their defensive zone early, but prevented that time from turning into goals, blocking seven shots in the period and intercepting passes time and time again. And while Notre Dame failed to create anything out of its early chances, Michigan capitalized on what it had.
Three minutes into the game, Edwards crashed the boards on freshman forward Adam Fantilli’s shot, flicking the rebound into the back of the net to swing the early momentum toward the Wolverines. With three minutes left, sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich snapped a wrister from above the left faceoff circle to put Michigan up two early.
“We have a two goal lead, that’s where you have to take another step,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “You have to put yourself in a position where it’s out of reach for them.”
As the clock wound through the second period, the Wolverines held steady in the defensive zone, disrupting the Irish offense and even limiting them to just one even-strength shot on goal in the period while in the offensive zone. But they never took that next step.
And when Notre Dame created a 3-on-2 rush chance on an extended shift for Michigan, setting up a cross-crease pass to forward Tyler Carpenter, its strong defense couldn’t help it, as Carpenter capitalized to cut the lead in half.
When the Wolverines took a costly penalty for too many men on the ice, that even-strength defense couldn’t prevent Irish forward Chayse Primeau from crashing the net, collecting a rebound and firing it into the net to tie the game.
“We do a bad job at squeezing and defending the rush, and they score,” Naurato said. “And then the too many men penalty is on us. We can’t have that, and then they score.”
After those two mistakes, with the momentum flipped, Notre Dame settled into the game it wanted to play all along. Michigan struggled to create controlled entries into the offensive zone in the final third as the Irish just sat back at the blue line. The game slowed down, and all of a sudden, Notre Dame had control as time trickled away into overtime.
And two-and-a-half minutes into the extra period, the Irish drove the final dagger through Michigan’s chances of holding on.
Notre Dame forward Ryder Rolston tracked freshman forward Rutger McGroarty down on the rush, stealing the puck and setting the Irish up with a 2-on-1 chance of their own. All alone in the defensive zone, Edwards could not break up a cross-ice stretch pass from defenseman Ryan Helliwell to forward Grant Silianoff, who fired in the game-winning goal to seal the comeback.
“If they do get rush chances, we just have to squeeze before the blue line and try to eliminate it,” Edwards said. “… Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done today.”
And although the Wolverines’ play in the final two thirds was short of an all-out collapse, they still didn’t do enough. It’s the third weekend in a row where Michigan has held a lead earlier in the game and lost it, going into overtime. The past two times, the Wolverines scored the golden goal, escaping with a win.
But this time, they weren’t so lucky. If they continue to take their foot off the gas with a lead, then Saturday’s result may happen more often.