As he was leaving Friday night’s post-game press conference, Michigan hockey coach Mel Pearson stopped and grinned.
“Heart-attack hockey,” Pearson said. “I’ve had enough overtime games already.”
Eight seconds into the Wolverines’ overtime power play, sophomore forward Will Lockwood’s one-timer clinked off fifth-year senior forward Alex Roos’ helmet and ricocheted into the back of the net, giving Michigan (2-1 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) a dramatic 5-4 win against No. 4 Minnesota (3-2, 7-4).
Following two straight weeks with devastating, come-from-behind overtime losses, the Wolverines finally overcame the overtime hump off an unconventional goal.
“When it was a couple feet in front of my face, your life flashes in front of your eyes,” Roos joked. “Initially, it hit me and I was searching in the air, wondering where it went and then I heard the crowd roar and realized it went in.”
Coming into Friday’s matchup at an almost sold-out Yost Ice Arena, the stakes were high as Michigan took on the Golden Gophers.
Both teams would live up to those expectations, with a flurry of goals in the second and third periods. And after the dust settled in a game full of twists and turns and plenty of excitement, the Wolverines came out on top over the Minnesota powerhouse.
The first period started with back-and-forth play, as neither team could maintain control in their respective offensive zones. Every chance for either squad was squashed by well-timed blocks — a combined nine in the period — and defensive stops on both ends. Chippy play arose, resulting in a Golden Gopher minor penalty for indirect contact to the head.
This led to the first of two Wolverine power plays in the period, man advantages Pearson stressed as important opportunities and the possible chink in the Minnesota armor.
In the waning moments of the first, the Wolverines finally breathed some life into a lifeless offense, with two shots on goal by junior defenseman Nicholas Boka and another from sophomore defenseman Griffin Luce. Nonetheless, after a successful weekend on the power play and attacking the net against Ferris State, the Wolverines were unable to capitalize.
As the first 20 minutes wore on, the Golden Gophers started to find their groove offensively, getting wide open looks at the net. But sophomore goaltender Jack LaFontaine stood tall between the pipes, making 12 saves — compared to Michigan’s 10 shots on goal in the period — and protecting the stalemate heading into intermission.
In the final seconds of the first period, the Wolverines were handed a penalty for too many men on the ice, heading into the next frame with a scoreless contest, but also with a man disadvantage.
This mistake would come to haunt Michigan, when just 1:53 into the second period — with just seven seconds left on the Golden Gopher power play — Minnesota scored off a redirection to break the tie.
The Golden Gophers would feed off the tiebreaker with newfound energy, opening the floodgates with three goals in less than eight minutes.
Less than four minutes after lighting the lamp for the first time, Minnesota did so again with another goal from the left faceoff circle, extending its lead to two. Three minutes later, a deflection off Boka’s skate landed the puck past LaFontaine for a 3-0 advantage.
After scoring within the first five minutes in their last four games, the Wolverines found themselves in unfamiliar territory, playing from behind with a three-goal deficit. However, Michigan was prepared for the challenge.
“One of the things we talk about almost daily is that there’s going to be adversity, there’s going to be points in a game where things don’t go your way,” Pearson said. “You can’t change that, you can only go out and get ready for your next shift, the next period, et cetera. … It’s adversity, you’re going to have it in life, you’re going to have it in a hockey game. And it’s how you deal with that adversity. I think through our conversations, after a while, it sets in with them and I think it has.
“We play the full 60. And at the end of the game, we’ll look up and see where we’re at. Behind by three, ahead by five, we have to continue to play and they did that.”
The Wolverines showed that they wouldn’t go down without a fight, with sophomore forward Nick Pastujov scoring his second goal of the season — just two minutes after the Golden Gophers’ third goal — off a behind-the-back pass from Roos as he fell.
And then, with just 61 seconds left in the second period, senior forward Tony Calderone’s wrist shot found the top left of the net to cut the Minnesota lead to one, giving Michigan a much-needed boost entering the third period.
“Huge goal,” Pearson said. “I think it just gives your team a lift and a huge momentum swing. We’re one shot away from tying the game, so that’s a big goal. It seems like all our goals were at critical moments and big goals.”
Added junior forward Cooper Marody: “That’s huge for the last minute. Tons of momentum for us. They’re in the locker room in the third period panicking, saying, ‘Oh geez, they’re coming back on us.’ So we just used that to start the third and came out with a win and everybody played great I think.”
The Wolverines rode this momentum when less than four minutes into the final stanza, Calderone forced a Golden Gopher turnover between the blue lines and passed to senior forward Dexter Dancs in stride. Dancs, who was wide open, placed the puck in the net, giving Michigan its third unanswered goal and a tie game.
“From that point on, it was a hockey game,” Pearson said.
Thirty-three seconds later, Minnesota came right back with a shot that trickled past LaFontaine and went just over the goal line to put the Golden Gophers back on top, silencing the Wolverine faithful and seemingly letting all the air out of Michigan’s sails. But a wraparound pass from Marody three minutes later found sophomore forward Jake Slaker for the equalizer and another tie at 4-4.
And with just 1:44 to go in overtime, Lockwood was tripped immediately off a faceoff, and the Wolverines converted to seal the biggest win of their season thus far.
“They had their chances, we had our chances, and we were fortunate to get a bounce at the end of the game,” Pearson said. “We’ve had a couple overtime games that haven’t gone our way with some tough calls, so it was nice to get a bounce and a break. I told our team, ‘You have to earn those, you have to work hard and earn the bounces and the breaks and they did tonight.’ ”