With the score tied at two apiece and the clock dwindling, the Michigan hockey team transitioned out of its defensive end with speed. As sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau cradled the puck, Minnesota State defenseman Benton Maase tried to lift his stick, with both of them angling towards the boards.
Using his body to block the defense, Bordeleau gained one step, two step, then passed the puck into the wheelhouse of sophomore forward Brendan Brisson. With a snappy one-timer, Brisson turned a momentary lapse by Maase into the game-winning goal.
“(Bordeleau’s) a really smart, cerebral offensive player,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “You could see that all the way and that’s a big time play … by both those guys.”
Minor mistakes like Maase’s would go unnoticed against most teams, but there was little breathing room between two of the nation’s top teams. In a clash of skilled teams, the Wolverines’ fate hinged on how they managed those opportunities — both their own and those of the Mavericks.
Michigan made mistakes early on in the form of unforced penalties, which negated many of its rushes. From a call on sophomore defenseman Owen Power for indirect contact to the head, to a tripping call on senior forward Jimmy Lambert, the Wolverines shot themselves in the foot when they mounted quality attacks.
Michigan handled these kills well by keeping its structure and cutting off passing lanes, but those shorthanded minutes also gave the Mavericks plenty of time with the puck. That limited the Wolverines’ scoring opportunities and it allowed Minnesota State to keep Michigan’s high-power offense far away from its goal.
The Mavericks also gleaned a goal off of a hooking penalty by senior forward Jimmy Lambert. Minnesota State defenseman Akito Hirose pinched along the boards to extend his team’s attack after a clear from senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg. Soon after, Hirose fired the puck on net and his rebound met the Mavericks’ forward Ryan Sandelin for a goal.
“It hit my skate and then he was able to get the shot off,” Blankenburg said. “So I think in general, we’ve just got to be harder on pucks and harder to play against up front, especially against teams who work so hard.”
That kind of play wouldn’t stand out much against weaker teams, but it gave Minnesota State time to regain its attack and get a lead heading into the second intermission. Michigan realized it couldn’t afford to make further mistakes, and it tightened up its game accordingly in the next period.
But the Wolverines’ performance didn’t just revolve around mitigating their own gaffes. In such a close contest, they also took plenty of shots off of mistakes by the Mavericks.
Small shifts in positioning led to big results for the Wolverines as open skaters generated offense. On Thomas Bordeleau’s game-tying goal four minutes into the third, he cycled the puck to sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott on the point and skated unnoticed to the left side of the Mavericks goaltender Dryden McKay, where he would tip the puck into the net for
Minnesota State’s defense played well in their own end, winning back the puck with ease for the better part of the game. However, positioning errors like the Bordeleau goal and poorly timed plays like the Maase stick lift gave Michigan a window to grab a close win.
That’s nothing new after the Wolverines’ win on Friday, but the pressure of a close score exacerbated every mistake. Whoever blinked first could dictate the game winner, and that energy radiated through every decision both teams made.
Michigan played a game in which tiny errors led to some of its biggest moments. If the Wolverines benefit off those tiny errors like they did Saturday, that bodes well for a team that just grabbed both the Ice Breaker trophy and national attention.