It was too little, too late for Michigan on Friday night as early missed opportunities proved costly for the Wolverines.
The Fighting Irish defeated No. 4 Michigan 3-2, handing the Wolverines their first loss of the season. This result continued last year’s trend where the road team won all four of the contests between the teams.
“I told our team we weren’t going to go through the season undefeated,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s a good lesson: It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past, you’ve got to be ready for that next game. And you have to be really ready because everybody else in the Big Ten plays hard.”
Michigan got off to a sluggish start and trailed Notre Dame 1-0 at the end of the first period. Michigan mustered just eight shots on goal and had several neutral zone turnovers and offsides called. Notre Dame had a much more balanced period, sustaining possession in the offensive zone several times, and it paid off in the form of a goal by defenseman Nick Leivermann, who ripped one over junior goaltender Strauss Mann’s left shoulder just past the 10-minute mark in the period. Not much offense came after that and the Fighting Irish took their one-goal lead into the locker room at the first intermission.
The Wolverines came out much more aggressively in the second period and generated several chances. While Michigan had ample opportunities to score, it was Notre Dame getting the goals. Six minutes into the second period, the Wolverines coughed up the puck in front of their own net and Fighting Irish defenseman Nate Clurman capitalized — shooting one through a screen that found its way past Mann.
Ninety seconds later, Notre Dame extended its lead to three as forward Grant Silainoff leaked behind the Michigan defense, caught a long pass and buried the breakaway opportunity.
“Second period we were all over them and then the first shot they get goes into the net,” Pearson said. “Some unfortunate bounces tonight but at the same time, we have to learn.”
Late in the second period, freshman defenseman Jacob Truscott picked up a loose puck rolling around the boards in the offensive zone. He found forward Luke Morgan open on the back door to tap it in — making it 3-1 with two minutes to go in the period. This created a spark for a mostly uninspiring Wolverines offense heading into the third period.
“(Truscott) made a great play to me,” Morgan said. “I didn’t even know if he actually saw me. I was kind of creeping in the back door and he made an excellent play.”
Michigan built on its momentum and cut the deficit to one early in the third. Senior forward Michael Pastujov carried the puck in on the right side with a three-on-two developing, hesitated and then snuck one through the five-hole just three minutes in.
“I was trying to put a puck on net for a rebound and it ended up going in,” Pastujov said.
The Wolverines kept their foot on the gas and had several quality looks at the net but couldn’t find the equalizer as time winded down. They heavily outshot the Fighting Irish, but to no avail.
“To get behind three, it’s a huge hill to climb,” Pearson said. “You’re putting so much energy to get back in the game and I thought we had to do that tonight; so give our guys credit, we got right back in the game and you’re one shot away.”
They called a timeout with two minutes left and pulled Mann when they came back on the ice — ready for one more push. It was a frenetic final seconds but that crucial third goal never came. The final buzzer sounded and Michigan had lost, 3-2.
It was the first loss for a Michigan team that has high expectations for this season. Despite outshooting Notre Dame, 30-18, the Wolverines were playing catch-up for much of the game. They’ll hope to change that tomorrow night and jump out to an early lead.
“We’ll find out what our team’s made of,” Pearson said. “We’re a young team and this is our first loss. We’ll see how we react.”