MINNEAPOLIS — As Minnesota defensemen Jackson Lacombe fed him a perfect pass, forward Ben Meyers lowered his back leg to get every ounce of energy into his one-timer. Trapped in the butterfly position in the middle of the crease, sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo couldn’t stop it:
It was the exclamation point to the Golden Gophers’ comeback win.
Struggling to keep pace with No. 11 Minnesota’s (14-9 overall, 9-4 Big Ten) strong backchecking, the No. 3 Michigan hockey team (18-7-1, 9-6) narrowly lost, 2-1 in overtime. After a solid second period, the Wolverines’ flat-footed efforts late in the game allowed the Gophers to rally.
Coming out of the gates with fire, Minnesota asserted its physical presence. Every time Michigan touched the puck, the Gophers pried it away by hitting them away from the puck. Facing such a tenacious backcheck, the Wolverines leaned on passing to enter the zone.
“They’re dangerous,” Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said of the Wolverines. “If you just take an inch off on the back check, just let up for a second they got too much talent. And that’s where I give our guys an enormous amount of credit.”
Without those extra inches to breathe, Michigan’s frustrating start snowballed into mental lapses that put skaters in the box. Five minutes in, sophomore forward Matty Beniers took an obvious holding penalty as he chased Gophers forward, Matthew Knies, to the boards. It was the first of three penalties for the Wolverines that period and six in the game.
Penalty kills kept the game scoreless, but sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo was forced to make multiple tough saves through traffic. Minnesota’s skaters parked in front of the net and jammed at loose pucks without the Wolverines denying him that real estate.
But near the end of the first period, forward Aaron Huglen took that too far as he charged Portillo and went to the box, letting Michigan off the hook. It gave the Wolverines room to regroup entering the second period, and they regained their usual offensive rhythm coming out of the locker room.
And with increased pressure, holes in Minnesota’s composure leaked through. With eight minutes left in the second, the Gophers’ defense committed a hand pass that kept the puck in their end. A few passes after the ensuing faceoff, freshman forward Dylan Duke cradled a rebound down low and roofed it past goaltender Justen Close for the game’s first lead.
Minnesota charged back after every Michigan rush that period, but now the Wolverines matched their physical energy. With every loose puck, they tied up the Gophers and bought time for someone to reach the puck.
That proved fleeting, though, as Michigan leaned back on its heels the rest of the third period and into overtime. The Gophers’ physical presence led to the same possessions they thrived with during the first period, and their intensity only rose as the clock ticked toward zero.
“(You have to) understand where you are in the game,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “How much time is left in the game to make a good play and manage the game, just don’t play so loose.”
Eventually, the Wolverines’ lack of urgency cost them. After forechecking hard behind Michigan’s net, Minnesota forward Chaz Lucius fed forward Matthew Knies to the right of the net. With a clean flick of his wrist, he sent a tying one timer past an unsuspecting Portillo.
Portillo stood on his head the rest of the period, including a long shorthanded stint after sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott took a major for hitting from behind. Timely saves forced overtime, but the long penalty kill kept Michigan scrambling — until Meyers called game.
In a tight road game where every shift matters, six minutes can define a team’s effort. Michigan didn’t maximize that time, turning what could’ve been a proud win into a frustrating loss.