BOSTON —  As the Michigan hockey team’s skaters lined up along the goal line prior to the game, each one exuded a calm about themselves. Standing side by side, their relaxed auras made it seem as though they were about to play any other game. And just as throughout the season, one-by-one, the starters were called to skate forward. 

But this time, they were being called to something greater. Called to compete for a spot in the National Championship. Called for a chance to write their names into the history books. 

Upon hearing their names called, each skater sprinted to the blue line before lifting up the front end of a skate, slowly bringing them to a stop — hoping their season wouldn’t come to a halt as well.

Already lined up on the other blue line, Denver heard a similar — but opposite — call. Called to thwart Michigan’s season. Called to propel themselves into the championship. Called to send the Wolverines’ stars into the NHL empty-handed in the process.  

And it was the Pioneers who answered the call. 

In the Frozen Four, the Wolverines (31-10-1 overall) fell to Denver (30-9-1), 3-2, in a down-to-the-wire overtime bout, ending their Big Ten and NCAA Regional Championship season short of their ultimate goal. Michigan failed to reach a National Title, and was left standing in TD Garden able to do nothing but look up towards the summit of college hockey.

“(Denver’s) just structurally really good defensively,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Everybody thought that this might be a high-scoring game, but both teams played solid defensively. … They really made it difficult on us.”

That defense kept the game tight, forcing an overtime session to decide the victor. Overtime transitioned from tactful neutral zone battles to track-style high-speed chases down the ice that created multiple grade-A chances. 

With six minutes left in overtime, the Wolverines got their best chance to send the Pioneers packing. Freshman defenseman Luke Hughes used his signature speed to create a 2-on-1 attempt, but was rejected by goaltender Magnus Chrona from point-blank range. 

Only a minute later, that missed opportunity came back to haunt Michigan. Senior forward Jimmy Lambert and sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott both went for the puck near their own blue line to try and spark yet another breakaway off a blocked Denver shot. They hesitated slightly — unsure which one would take the puck — leading them both to miss it and allow the Pioneers to regain possession. 

From there, the puck ended up in the corner, where a pass into the slot found forward Carter Savoie. Savoie launched the puck at sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo, who slid to his right to make the initial season-saving stop.

But it didn’t matter. 

The save depositioned Portillo, allowing Savoie to secure his own rebound and pop the game-winning goal into the net, beating Portillo and his last ditch effort to get back in the crease from the splits. 

“(Michigan) had a couple really good shifts there in that overtime,” Savoie said. “I think our whole group did a really good job weathering it, not giving up that next goal. And then we found a way to put that one in.” 

Just as the goal finalized Denver’s control, it was the Pioneers who took early control of the high-stakes affair, striking first and holding the Wolverines without a shot on net throughout the first 16-plus minutes. Michigan, though, got itself settled in as the second period began. 

And four minutes into the second, the Wolverines broke even. Although the Pioneers’ effective net-out poke checking continued to give Michigan fits, Chrona’s poke check on a Wolverines  attack ended up back in Michigan’s control, setting up a Lambert goal. 

The game-tying goal quickened the game’s pace, and as Denver continued on its first-period offensive aggression, the Wolverines followed suit. 

The Wolverines’ bounce-back response from the first period to the second was reciprocated in the third. Just as the Pioneers looked like they’d skate towards victory with a redirect goal by forward Cameron Wright six minutes into the third period, Michigan responded only four minutes later with sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau’s goal setting the scene for the dramatic overtime ending. 

“You have to be good, and you need a little bit of luck,” Pearson said, reflecting on his past postseason runs. “We just didn’t seem to have any lady luck on our side tonight.”

No matter how talented a team is, the Frozen Four brings out the best of the best. Each team is good enough to win it all, but only one can. Michigan made mistakes, and so did Denver. The Pioneers were lucky enough to make one less mistake in a game with no margin for error.  

So on Thursday, the Wolverines ran out of luck. And on Saturday, while the Pioneers take the ice, Michigan will watch the National Championship from home.