On two consecutive Fridays, the Michigan hockey team faced overtime. And on two consecutive Fridays, goaltender interference calls went against the Wolverines, ultimately costing them two potential sweeps and some needed confidence early in the season.
Last week, it was a 5-4 heartbreaker against Penn State. And this past Friday night, after what looked like a chance at a second straight home series sweep, Michigan (5-3-0) fell to Ferris State (3-6-1) in a shocking 3-2 upset.
Less than two minutes into overtime of the second game against Ferris State, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes’ shot from behind the left circle crept past the Bulldog defense and into the net.
A pile of yellow sweaters jumped on top of Hughes to celebrate, christening the newest hero on a team that continues to find different players to step up in big moments. Then the typically mild-mannered Michigan coach Mel Pearson threw his hands up in utter disbelief.
Sophomore forward Jake Slaker — vying for position in front of the net — was determined to have made contact with the goaltender and the apparent game-winner was waved off.
“At Penn State, again a goal that was reviewed and they had a guy in the crease — I mean, well in the crease, they took our goalie out — and they counted it for Penn State,” Pearson said. “And here, I guess a little bit in the blue and they don’t count it. I’m a little confused, but nonetheless, give Ferris State credit.”
Sporadic play ensued after the called-off goal, with the Wolverines seemingly distraught and trying to score quickly to end the game for a second time and avert a tie. The Bulldogs, however, exerted renewed energy after their fortunate break.
With 2:34 left in overtime, a Ferris State wrist shot found its way past sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, abruptly ending the game, 3-2. What would have been another high point during Michigan’s strong start to the season turned into complete shock in a matter of minutes.
“It’s hard after you all go out on the ice and celebrate, and now we have to come down off that emotional roller coaster and play,” Pearson said. “But we talk about that all the time and just to stay in the moment. Regardless of what the call is, we’ve got to continue to play.”
Added junior forward Cooper Marody: “Regardless of what we think happened, whether it should or shouldn’t be a goal, it wasn’t a goal. So we have to refocus and go back to what we are having success with. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Even with a 7-2 win over the Bulldogs on Thursday, the late shift in momentum and eventual overtime loss cast a shadow on the previous night’s success. That wasn’t lost on senior forward Dexter Dancs.
“Next week we have Minnesota, they have a very high-powered offense, so we’re not going to be able to give up the chances we did tonight and last night, and stay in the game,” Dancs said. “So I think that’s something we’ll focus on this week.”
Despite Thursday’s dominant victory on paper, Ferris State kept the battle to a one-goal margin through two periods, controlling the second and outshooting Michigan 11 to nine. While the Wolverines dominated the final period with four unanswered goals, it couldn’t sustain the momentum in the same frame 24 hours later. With Michigan unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities and guilty of sloppy play in the defensive zone, it was only a matter of time before the Bulldogs broke through.
“(Ferris State) had a really good game and great goaltending, they scored when they needed to,” Pearson said. “And then we couldn’t convert on our chances. We had a number of grade-A opportunities. I think when I look back, we’re going to like a lot of things about our team and the game and the offensive chances we create.
“But we have to finish, we have to put the team away. We did that last night and we couldn’t do that tonight.”
The Wolverines were left skating off the ice in frustration, shaking their heads in disappointment at the referees.
But Pearson, known for emphasizing positives and not fixating on negatives, sees the unfortunate outcome as a valuable lesson.
“I didn’t get a good look on that last goal and what the breakdowns were, but having said that, it’s tough,” Pearson said. “But I liked this team, there’s a lot to like about this team and I think that we’ll continue to get better. We’ve got to learn from these things. It’s a tough lesson in hockey. Sports can be cruel and it was cruel to us tonight.”