When the second period started, the game was still within Michigan’s reach.
It was trailing No. 11 Ohio State by two goals, but this wasn’t unchartered territory. The Wolverines had found themselves in positions like this all season, and lately it seemed they’d finally learned how to overcome adversities thrown at them.
This time, however, the Wolverines couldn't recover from a two-goal deficit and mental and emotional mistakes. It was all too much for Michigan (11-12-3 overall, 6-8-2-1 Big Ten) to overcome as it fell, 4-1, to the Buckeyes (16-9-3, 9-7-2-0).
Saturday night, the first of those adversities came just 43 seconds after the game started.
The sequence started when freshman forward Johnny Beecher lost the faceoff. From there, the puck slid back to the blueline and met the stick of a Buckeye defender. He passed it to teammate Matt Miller who didn’t hesitate to shoot at sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann.
But Mann — the player that’s consistently bailed his team out all season long — didn’t stop it. The puck went right past him. Before Michigan could even settle into the game, it was already playing from behind.
“It’s tough letting in a goal in the first or last minute of the period,” senior forward Nick Pastujov said. “On the bench, it’s just kind of something where you gotta have short-term memory loss. Reset and know that … we are outplaying playing them. We can be a better team, and we just gotta keep that rolling.”
Eventually, the Wolverines found an answer for Miller’s goal. Their response was too late though. It came midway through the second period when junior forward Jack Becker used his body to redirect a shot from sophomore Jimmy Lambert.
Becker’s goal made the game 2-1, his team having fallen behind by two goals in the first period. Nine minutes after Miller’s goal, teammate Jaedon Leslie beat Mann between his pads.
Michigan’s lone goal of the game came at what could’ve been a turning point. Seven minutes before cutting the Buckeyes’ lead, the Wolverines lost a forward. Freshman Johnny Beecher was ejected from the game for head-butting.
As the game progressed, Becker’s spark never became anything more than that. Just under fourteen minutes after Beecher was tossed from the game, sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe received a game misconduct for charging.
Down two centers, Michigan’s chances at a comeback slipped further out of reach. The bench got even shorter when junior forward Michael Pastujov didn’t return to play after suffering an upper body injury.
“It’s tough,” senior forward Will Lockwood said. “Guys gotta step up. Centers kind of hold the line together. They’re taking draws and (have) responsibility in the d-zone.”
When the third period started, the true effects of these adversities hadn’t revealed themselves yet. Wolverine forwards were being double shifted. Their adrenaline, and Ohio State’s one goal lead, fueled them.
Halfway through the third, Michigan’s tiredness was obvious. And when a team is tired, it makes mistakes. Saturday night, these mistakes resulted in the Wolverines’ comeback hopes crumpling.
In the offensive zone, sophomore defenseman Jack Summers skated with the puck. He was pressured by Buckeye defender Quinn Preston, who poke checked Summers. Then, Preston took off on a two-on-one with freshman Keaton Pehrson as Michigan’s lone man back. Preston slid the puck to Austin Pooley, and he tucked it between the two pads of Mann.
“Just a bad mistake and turnover,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It ends up in our net. We just couldn’t get that save or bounce that we needed.”
Again, the Wolverines trailed by two, but now, time was running out for a comeback. In a last ditch attempt to give his team a boost, Pearson pulled Mann and added an extra attacker. Nothing good came from it.
With fifty seconds remaining, Preston shot the puck into Michigan’s empty net and sealed the fate of the game. A game that at one point was completely within the Wolverines’ reach had slipped so far away. They made too many mistakes — some driven by emotions and some by fatigue — and Ohio State capitalized on all of them.
“We beat ourselves, that’s the most disappointing thing,” Pearson said. “ … (We played) undisciplined.”