Sometimes, when an upset happens, it’s because the underdog found a new way to catch its opponent off guard or attack a previously undiscovered vulnerability.
That didn’t happen to the Michigan hockey team Friday night. Ohio State didn’t bring anything the Wolverines hadn’t seen before; Michigan just kept shooting itself in the foot.
In a game that, by every predictive metric, the No. 7 Wolverines should have easily won, they instead left the ice nursing a 3-2 loss to the unranked Buckeyes (6-14-1 overall, 6-13 Big Ten) — a product of countless avoidable gaffes.
“I think that we were a little careless today,” freshman forward Matty Beniers said. “Just kind of feeling the room, I think we weren’t as energetic and pumped up for this game, which I think made a big difference out there.”
Some of the miscues were repeats from earlier games. After freshman forward Kent Johnson equalized the game at one on a snipe from the left circle and the momentum seemed to shift toward Michigan, it got booked for a too-many-men penalty, something that’s plagued it all season.
Others, though, were new. Freshman goaltender Erik Portillo — who has been a strong second goalie most of the season — gave up two awful goals in the first period. On offense, breakouts that usually flow smoothly ended on offside calls, weak checks and missed passes.
One such error came late in the second period, after sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini emerged from the penalty box uncovered after serving two minutes for tripping. Sophomore forward Jimmy Lambert tried to find him in stride, but the pass was just out of reach, and Michigan walked away empty-handed.
“We were just off,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Right from the get-go even. You have to prepare, you have to start on time and you have to be focused. That first goal gets in, it can throw you off a bit, but I just don’t think we were as focused or as dialed in as we needed to be.”
Defensively, too, the Wolverines remained rattled. Ohio State extended its lead 3:37 minutes into the second period after forward Patrick Guzzo was left wide open in front of the net and deflected the Buckeyes’ third goal past Portillo.
Michigan controlled the pace of play most of the third period — and pulled within one on an early-period goal from Beniers — and even finished with some strong saves from Portillo. But in the end, it wasn’t enough to climb out of the hole it dug itself earlier in the game.
“Whether we didn’t respect Ohio State, I don’t know,” Pearson said. “You’ll have to ask the players their approach, but I thought we were too loosey-goosey.”
The Wolverines will have a chance at redemption on Saturday, but in reality, a victory wouldn’t mean that much. The Buckeyes are sixth in the Big Ten. They’re a team that Michigan should sweep every time. If the Wolverines can’t play a clean game against Ohio State, that certainly doesn’t bode well for their chances against Minnesota in two weeks.
Or, for that matter, against anybody in the postseason.