The adrenaline. The desperation. The urgency.
Giving everything you have to try and score that tying goal.
Playing from behind is a situation Michigan found itself in often last season.
When the Wolverines opened regular season play two weeks ago against No. 9 Clarkson, they found themselves back in that familiar spot: hunting to even the score.
In Friday’s game, during the closing minutes of the first period, the Golden Knights struck first — converting on the power play in its dying seconds. Michigan mustered a second period goal for a 1-1 tie.
Saturday, however, it was unable to overcome the 2-0 hole it had fallen into. Its efforts as the minutes wound down were valiant, but not enough. When the game ended, the Wolverines had lost, 3-1.
“Obviously, playing up is what you want to do,” said junior forward Michael Pastujov. “Playing from behind was what we struggled with a lot last year. We started a lot of games down early, so it’s kind of hard to climb back up.”
Michigan plays 34 games in a season, so every night — every opportunity to eke out points to help its position in the standings — matters. And through the course of the weekend series with Clarkson, they faced the harsh realities of falling behind early in a game. It’s challenging to come back from being down, as evidenced by the Wolverines’ 13-win season last year.
Going into last week against Lake Superior State, Michigan knew it needed to strike first. It couldn’t afford to give up an early goal against a defensive-minded team like the Lakers. It had to come ready to play, and both nights, it did.
Friday, sophomore forward Nolan Moyle was the first of four skaters to rifle the puck into the back of the net. Just five and a half minutes into the game, the Wolverines had the lead. It was writing a new narrative, and leaving last season’s in the past. It wasn’t a team that was going to play from behind. It was a team that was ready to take control.
The Wolverines looked comfortable. They showed glimpses of their potential. The pressure wasn’t on them any more — they were the ones applying it.
“Against those teams (Clarkson and Lake Superior), the way their style is, I thought it was important,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Because they’re so strong defensively and that’s their M.O., you want to get them out of their game. You want to get them to play more of an up and down game.”
In even less time than the Wolverines grabbed their lead over the Lakers on Friday, sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert connected with the puck and sent a shot whistling into the netting. Just like that, the lead was theirs.
Junior forward Jack Becker followed in Lambert’s footsteps and tallied two early goals in the opening period, and before the first period had ended, Michigan tripled its advantage.
The next 20 minutes were much more turbulent. Seemingly as quick as it had earned a three-goal lead, Lake Superior State found its way back in the game with two goals. But the Wolverines clung to their one-goal advantage with senior captain Will Lockwood heading the charge.
In the locker room, Lockwood stressed the importance of positivity. Michigan didn’t have the period it wanted, but the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. It didn’t need to panic the way it had in the past, when it was searching for a last-minute tying goal. The Wolverines just needed to stick to their game plan and execute. They maintained the lead, something they weren’t often capable of doing last year.
“Positive team talk in the locker room,” said Lockwood. “(The Lakers) came out Saturday night and scored two goals right away in the second. and they didn’t take the lead, but I think that just goes with team talk and trying to keep everyone up and not have that big momentum switch, that momentum is huge.”
It’s the exact momentum the Wolverines rarely felt last season — the feeling of playing with the lead.
“You’ll have to look at the statistics,” Lockwood said. “But I think the team that scores first wins most of the games so to get that (first) one is important, it’s huge.”