DURHAM, N.H. — After surviving a tough third period in which it was outshot by nine, the Michigan hockey team (4-8-2) found itself heading to overtime against New Hampshire (6-5-1) on Saturday night.
The quick break didn’t offer enough of a reset, though, and just over 30 seconds into the extra period, forward Angus Crookshank stole the puck in the low slot and capitalized. With that goal, Crookshank stole the Wolverines’ chance for the weekend sweep, as they fell, 3-2, to the Wildcats.
“Tough loss,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I like our team at times, I think, through the first two periods tonight. Obviously, third period we ran out of gas. … We were on our heels, and we just never recovered from that, even in overtime.”
Just like Friday, Michigan started Saturday’s game spending considerable time in its defensive zone. That said, at no point during the opening frame did things seem out of control.
The Wolverines’ penalty kill unit was successful on both of its runs during the first period. The first of those penalties came within the first two minutes. And soon after that, Michigan found its footing on the attack.
Halfway through the first period, the Wolverines went on their first power play of the night after forward Chase Stevenson interfered with senior forward Nick Pastujov. Michigan put the extra man to use, with senior forward Will Lockwood and sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert getting multiple shots.
And then with about 30 seconds remaining with the advantage, junior forward Michael Pastujov collected the puck near the right side. He worked his way to the right circle and sent a wrister through two defenders and into the net to give his team a one-goal lead.
New Hampshire’s offense had a streaky element to it. Once in the offensive zone, it used bursts of speed to quickly attack, but the Wolverines’defensemen excelled early. They used their sticks effectively to defend rushes and also blocked multiple shots.
Senior goaltender Hayden Lavigne — starting for the first time this season — looked calm early on. Nevertheless, just over a minute into the second frame the Wildcats scored on him. Sophomore defenseman Jake Gingell collected a pass in the defensive zone but Crookshank stole it and successfully took on Lavigne. Pearson was still pleased with Lavigne’s overall play, though.
“Well, he earned it last week at Michigan State,” Pearson said. “He played extremely well. He’s a senior, he has won a lot of games for us, and he has worked hard in practice. So, it was his time and his turn. I thought he did a good job tonight.”
With the score tied early in the second period, the game started to get more physical around the boards as both sides searched for the edge. Michigan seemed to have established that edge with under seven minutes to go in the frame. Sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe took the puck down the right wing and dished it to senior forward Jake Slaker in the crease. Slaker then went forehand to backhand and snuck one past goaltender Mike Robinson for the lead.
But then just a few minutes later, after freshman forward Johnny Beecher got called for cross-checking, defenseman Max Gildon leveled the game from the right circle. That goal started a pause from scoring, as neither side took claim in the third period. New Hampshire hit resume shortly after, though.
What’s hard to swallow for the Wolverines is that they excelled in many facets but couldn’t come out on top. The offense showed signs of improvement from prior weekends. The penalty kill unit showcased its consistency, shutting down four opportunities Saturday against a top-tier special team’s unit. It wasn’t enough.
“We worked really well as a unit of four,” said senior defenseman Luke Martin. “Everyone knew if we got strung out, what to do. If you were in a different spot it didn’t matter. I thought we did that really well, and we had really good sticks. And just a good commitment.
“Everyone was bought in. Could really see it.”
Yet with all the bright spots, there’s a certain level of disappointment that comes with letting a potential road sweep slip from one’s hands. With all the glory, there is still pain.
“No moral victories,” Pearson said. “We have to find a way to win those games.”