DETROIT — There’s a saying written at the bottom of the stairs leading from the Michigan locker room to the ice at Yost Ice Arena.
Each day, when the Wolverines take the ice for practice or a game, they take in the message.
Every play matters.
It’s a somewhat simplified, cliché version of what it takes to win a hockey game, but at the core, it sums things up pretty well. Any one play in a game can be the one that changes the game for one team or the other.
In Tuesday’s championship game at the Great Lakes Invitational, Michigan received a harsh reminder of the saying that Mel Pearson tries to drill into them each and every day.
Every play matters.
After getting out to a one-goal lead over Michigan Tech, the Wolverines lost track of forward Logan Pietila as he crashed toward the far side of the net. Forward Trenton Bliss sent a pass across the slot to where Pietila waited, and senior forward Jake Slaker slid over to break up the shot, but he was too late.
Pietila’s shot flipped over sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann as he sprawled out in an attempt to make the save, and the Huskies tied the game.
Michigan answered on a goal from junior forward Jack Becker to retake the lead, but just thirty seconds into the second period, Michigan Tech tied things up once again. And though the Wolverines had all the momentum in the first two periods, the tying goal sapped Michigan of its energy and the Wolverines couldn’t get the momentum back.
Once again, a single play had changed the tide of the game.
“Any time you score a goal it’s a momentum changer and it pumps life into the team that gets the goal,” Pearson said. “It puts the team that gave it up on their heels a little bit. And that’s what happened, they really made a push there. Again, you’re going to make mistakes as you get tired and the game goes on.”
Added senior forward Nick Pastujov: “Can’t always go your way, but we’ve got to find a way to just stay up and know that we’re the dominating team in that game. I think the first two periods, we outplayed them in every aspect. I think no one on our team doubted that we were going to win that game and I think we just need to be able to play more consistent when we give up a goal quick.”
The game followed a similar script to many of the Wolverines’ games throughout the season — early momentum, an inability to capitalize on chances, a couple of bad defensive plays leading to goals for the opposing team, and, ultimately, a scramble late in the game to get back in it after the chance to come back was largely gone.
And in Tuesday’s loss, the saying that every play matters appeared in the offensive zone as much as it did in the defensive zone for Michigan. A couple of key defensive miscues led to goals for Michigan Tech, and a couple of wide-open scoring chances went wide or right into the glove of goaltender Matt Jurusik.
The Wolverines outshot the Huskies 20-9 in the first period but couldn’t come away with a goal. An early tally when Michigan had all the momentum could’ve changed the outcome of the game, but the Wolverines couldn’t convert on any of their chances.
“We have to find a way to generate some offense,” Pearson said. “Otherwise, every mistake we make is so critical, we don’t have much room for error right now.”
Late in the game, after the Huskies took a 3-2 lead, Pearson pulled Mann for an extra attacker. Fifth-year forward Jacob Hayhurst had two Grade-A looks at the net — and caught the post on both of them. A millimeter to the left on either chance would’ve tied the game.
The two chances were, once again, single plays that could’ve changed the game. Instead, the puck rang off the post both times.
“We’re right there,” Pearson said. “We’ve been right there all year, but we’ve got to find a way to win those games and make sure those plays that matter are in our favor.”