After 40 minutes of play, Michigan (7-8-6) and Merrimack (6-15-1) were deadlocked at one goal apiece. Forward Derek Petti was able to break the stalemate with a goal just seconds into the third period that allowed the Warriors to take the lead and eventually the victory, 4-2.
Entering the final period, Merrimack was on the power play as a result of senior defenseman Nick Boka taking an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at the end of the second period. And just 17 seconds into the man advantage, Petti skated into the slot untouched and fired a shot past freshman goaltender Strauss Mann to put the Warriors up by a goal.
“The second goal, we take a bad penalty at the end of the period,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “A real bad penalty, and they convert on it. A real soft goal.”
Merrimack added another tally moments later to stretch its lead to two.
Michigan struck back just over two minutes later, when freshman defenseman Jack Summers’s shot was tipped into the net by junior forward Adam Winborg, but the late-game goal proved to be not enough for the Wolverines. They fell to Merrimack, which entered the game ranked 52nd in Pairwise — out of 60 teams — and have now won just one of their last five games.
“(The Warriors) played desperate, and that was the difference,” Pearson said. “They played desperate, they played like their life depended on it. We played like it was just another game. We’re not good enough to just show up and think we’re just going to come out and play … We’re going to have to play a lot harder.”
The matchup was rife with odd-man rushes and breakaway chances, but neither team consistently capitalized on those chances.
Just over two minutes into the game, forwards Jordan Seyfert and Patrick Kramer found themselves in a two-on-zero breakaway ahead of Michigan’s defense. Mann had little hope of stopping Kramer’s shot, and Merrimack took the early lead.
But after that, the Warriors’ odd-man chances frequently found the end boards, not the back of the net.
Early in the second period, freshman defenseman Nick Blankenburg nearly ended up on the wrong side of a one-on-zero breakaway, but he used his skating to force the Merrimack player to the side of the net and prevent a goal.
For Michigan, breakaway chances were no more fruitful.
“We missed the net a lot,” Pearson said. “(Merrimack) blocked a lot of shots, but we missed the net a lot. Over the net, wide on grade-A scoring opportunities. We’re not a gifted team as far as scoring goes. We have to really work for our goals and tonight we had to really work for our goals.”
Minutes after the Warriors found twine, freshman forward Garrett van Wyhe and sophomore forward Dakota Raabe came close to an odd-man rush of their own, though goaltender Drew Vogler was able to make a straightforward save on Van Wyhe’s shot.
It took more than a period for the Wolverines to equal the score. In the second period, junior forward Jake Slaker fired a shot from just outside the right circle. Goaltender Drew Vogler tried to make the save, but Slaker’s shot tucked underneath the top of the net for his eighth goal of the season.
“(Junior defenseman Luke Martin) made a nice play to me out wide,” Slaker said. “I thought I had a step on their defenseman. I was getting a lot of shots all night and I finally saw an opportunity to get a good shot and luckily, it went in.”
Just three days before the loss to Merrimack, Michigan defeated No. 9 Notre Dame 4-2 — in South Bend. And three days after the loss to the Warriors, the Wolverines will face No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus. Last season, Michigan fell to the Buckeyes all five times the two teams met.
The seven teams of the Big Ten are separated by just 10 points, with three teams tied in the middle at 15 points each — including the Wolverines.
Michigan now has just three days to bounce back from the loss and get ready for a trip to Ohio State.
Its performance in Columbus could set the course of the rest of its season.