After a scoreless second period, a 2-1 Michigan deficit did not tell the right tale – it was anyone’s game.
And it all came down to a contentious third period that pitted a gritty Wolverine defense against a Notre Dame offense that was performing nowhere near perfect.
A timeout with one minute remaining and a pulled goaltender wasn’t enough, though, as Michigan failed to overcome its first period loss.
“We had more two-on-ones tonight than we’ve had in the last six games combined,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We just couldn’t finish.”
With rally towels and pom-poms in hand, fans filed into the stands at Yost Ice Arena to watch the Wolverines (3-6-2 Big Ten, 8-9-2 overall) take on the second-ranked Fighting Irish (11-0-0, 17-3-1) and to watch the Red Berenson Rink dedication.
Notre Dame came out from the puck drop playing like a team worthy of its record that has no tally in the loss column in the Big Ten thus far this season.
Just 4:44 into the first period, Fighting Irish defenseman Matt Hellickson punched the puck into the net off a man-advantage rebound following a blocker save by sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
And, to make the opening period seem a little bleaker, the Wolverines had already been partaking in numerous scrums in front of their own net that could have resulted in two, maybe three more Irish goals.
Commonly touted as the best offense in the country, Notre Dame center Andrew Oglevie helped support that notion with a crisp one-timer up and over Lavigne’s stick-side shoulder for the team’s second goal 9:55 into play.
As evident by Hellickson’s tally, the Fighting Irish not only have a strong offensive front, but also have a deadly back line led by goaltender Cale Morris, who boasts an NCAA-leading .954 save percentage.
“I think we try to be more aware of staying on the defensive side of the puck,” said junior defenseman Sam Piazza. “ … Being aware when their big point guys are out there.”
But, Michigan capitalized on the chances it could generate, as senior right wing Tony Calderone drove and wrapped around the net to put the Wolverines on the board and cut the deficit to one.
The second period kicked off in a dissimilar fashion to the first. Whatever Pearson said in the locker room sunk in as a Michigan team with new life exited the locker room.
With no score 13 minutes into the second period, the Wolverines were calling the early expectation that the Fighting Irish would handily beat them into question, with no clear counterpart solidifying control of play.
After a second period in which the closest either team came to netting a goal was a wrist-shot from sophomore center Jake Slaker that found the pipe up and over Morris’ glove, Michigan skated out onto the ice looking for an equalizer to tie the game at two apiece.
“I thought the second period sorta got a little quiet,” Pearson said. “There wasn’t a lot of time and space both teams were battling hard.”
After five minutes of play, though, neither team could get on the board. An apparent anxiety was palpable as whichever team scored next could likely gain all the momentum needed for a victory.
Wrap-around and ricocheted shots from both sides of the rink didn’t help that anxiety, and as opposed to the first period that saw Notre Dame in clear control, the Fighting Irish mechanical offense seemed human.
Another scoreless contest categorized the third period, and the Fighting Irish dodged Michigan attacks while skillfully running the clock out.
While the Wolverines did not overcome their early deficit, they did prove that they can play right up there next to the top teams in the country and hold their own.