MINNEAPOLIS — After a turnover by Minnesota, junior forward Brendan Warren charged from center ice toward the ninth-ranked Gophers’ goal on a breakaway. But at the same time as Warren’s shot was blocked by Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn, Gopher forward Tommy Novak hooked Warren, giving him a penalty shot.
With a chance to bring the Michigan hockey team within one with seven minutes to play, Warren needed to score to keep his team in the game. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, his shot went wide left.
Though Michigan may not have realized it at the time, Warren’s miss may have cost it a win. About a minute later, senior forward Evan Allen knocked in a goal from a long shot by senior defenseman Nolan de Jong to cut the lead to 3-2. The Golden Gophers (5-1-0 Big Ten, 13-5-2 overall) held strong, though, escaping with a 4-2 victory Saturday night at Mariucci Arena.
“I think our third period was much better today than it was yesterday,” De Jong said. “Both games came down to whether it was a PK or small little plays where we didn’t block a shot or box out enough. We showed good glimpses in both games, I think we definitely showed more today than we did yesterday, but I think it was just our willingness to stick to it through the whole 60 minutes tonight is what gave us the opportunity in the last couple minutes to maybe tie it up.”
For the first two periods, the Wolverines (1-5-0, 8-11-1) simply couldn’t find the net. It wasn’t until the third that Michigan finally managed to put points on the scoreboard. Freshman forward Steven Merl ended the drought, shooting the puck past Schierhorn from the goaltender’s right side on a pass from Warren.
Minnesota spent the early minutes of the first period passing the puck around in Michigan’s zone. The teams looked relatively even, as the Wolverines took a few shots and the Golden Gophers answered right back.
Michigan looked to head into the first intermission in a scoreless tie. With 42.7 seconds left, De Jong — who received a game misconduct penalty Friday night — earned another trip to the box for tripping Kloos. The Wolverines had to play a man-down for the remainder of the period, and for about 40 seconds, Michigan looked as though it would kill the penalty.
Minnesota forward Vinni Lettieri had other ideas. He took a pass from fellow forward Leon Bristedt from behind Michigan’s face-off circle and shot it right past freshman goaltender Hayden Lavigne. For the second straight night, the Wolverines allowed a goal with just seconds remaining in the first period.
“Those are tough goals to give up,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I’ve said all along, first minute goals or last minute goals, and I think we gave up four of them this weekend, whether it was just coincidence or it was a breakdown or letdown, I couldn’t tell you. But those goals are backbreakers. I thought our team responded well.”
In the second frame, Michigan couldn’t hang onto the puck, as the Golden Gophers controlled it and tallied 11 shots. Meanwhile, the Wolverines didn’t take a shot for 12 minutes, and by the end of the period, they had notched just three.
Despite its difficulties on offense, Michigan hung with the Golden Gophers for the first 19 minutes of the period. Lavigne continued his prowess behind the net, saving 10 shots in the second, including a shot near the blue line from Minnesota forward Tyler Sheehy and a one-timer from forward Connor Reilly on a power play.
Once again, though, the Golden Gophers found late heroics, this time coming from defenseman Ryan Collins. Collins found the net off a wrist shot near the blue line, taking away whatever momentum might have lingered for the Wolverines.
Early in the third period, Lettieri was held by senior forward Alex Kile on a breakaway, giving him a penalty shot. Unlike Warren, Lettieri converted the opportunity to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead. And with just 22.7 seconds left in the game, he scored his third goal of the night to extend the lead to the final score of 4-2.
Still, Berenson was optimistic about Saturday’s result. Michigan remained in the game until the final minutes, something it could not say Friday night.
“They didn’t quit,” Berenson said. “We got a break on a couple shots and the puck started going in for us. Then we got back in the game and made a game of it. It’s too bad we couldn’t score the tying goal. They scored on a penalty shot, we missed on a penalty shot, it was simple. So anyway, it was not a good outcome, but it was, I thought, a better team effort right from the start.”