As the final buzzer sounded and yet another scrum broke out between the No. 12 Michigan hockey team and No. 18 Penn State, the scene felt like a fitting ending for what had transpired in the 60 minutes beforehand.
In a matchup that saw three Wolverines head to the locker room with major injuries — junior forward Mark Estapa after a hit to the knee, junior forward Dylan Duke after a blow to the head area and sophomore forward Rutger McGroarty after a hard hit and crash into the boards — emotions were swelling all game.
In the third period, though, those emotions overflowed.
Both Duke and McGroarty went down in the final frame, each spending minutes on the ice. Duke managed to slowly skate off, while McGroarty was helped to a stretcher. Almost every stoppage of play was met with some sort of altercation, with shoves and jabs becoming commonplace. Both teams combined for 38 total penalty minutes in the third period alone — with Michigan accumulating 31 of them.
“There’s a lot of emotions in a game like that, with three guys out,” sophomore defenseman Seamus Casey said. “Those are your best buddies, you’re with them every day. So we’re just praying for them right now.”
For the Wolverines, guarding a one-goal lead as they played shorthanded with just under two minutes to go in the game, they needed one last push to close out a tough night on a positive note.
And by using their emotions to fuel them, that’s exactly what they did.
Yes, their emotions might’ve gotten the best of them at times. Sophomore forward Josh Eernisse served as a prime example, getting himself ejected for contact to the head with just a few minutes left on the clock. As a scrum erupted following Eernisse’s hit, Casey was also sent to the box for a two-minute minor alongside Nittany Lions defenseman Tanner Palocsik.
Despite surrendering a goal on the penalty kill in those final minutes to bring Penn State within one, Michigan quickly figured out how to harness those emotions as assets rather than hindrances. The Wolverines’ passion and determination — as they continued to play for their “best buddies” — ultimately outweighed their anger and animosity.
“Everyone’s trying to push through it for those guys and for the team,” senior forward Phillipe Lapointe, who scored his first goal of the season to kick off the Wolverines’ scoring against the Nittany Lions, said.
That final push was encapsulated in an emphatic empty-net goal from freshman forward Garrett Schifsky, sealing the 6-4 victory for Michigan.
The crowd cheered louder than it had all night, and the Wolverines celebrated — for the three points secured by the win, but even more so for their three teammates who couldn’t be on the ice with them after injuries.
“Especially after all that stuff, I’m proud of them for being composed and finishing out and doing what they needed to do,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “It was big time.”
The postgame scrum might’ve epitomized the high-aggression, high-tension matchup. And in a penalty-filled final period with three teammates injured, the Wolverines certainly struggled to adequately handle their emotions.
But when it mattered most, Michigan learned how to lean into those emotions and use them as fuel for a successful finish.