Late in the third period of Friday’s game, the players on Michigan’s bench practically hung over the side of the boards. In a tie-game with less than ten minutes to go, all eyes were glued to the puck and breaths were bated.
From below the right circle, freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau fired a quick pass to freshman forward Brendan Brisson, who sat waiting at the top left of the crease. Brisson saw his opportunity and, without wasting a second, chipped the puck to the back of the net.
The bench erupted as the Wolverines grabbed the lead for the second time of the night, a lead they would not relinquish.
With late-game momentum in the third period, the No. 9 Michigan hockey team (7-6 overall, 5-6 Big Ten) beat Ohio State (4-8-1, 4-7), 4-2.
Despite Michigan’s high ranking, the teams performed similarly in the first half of the season, as evidenced by their matching 4-6 conference records coming into the game. Both dropped two games against Minnesota and split their series with Penn State and Michigan State.
And, at least for the first period, the teams looked as evenly matched as their records would have you believe. Neither team could maintain possession long enough to get into a rhythm in their offensive zone early in the game. Both put few shots on goal and all were easily saved by the goaltenders.
Halfway through the opening period, a hooking penalty was called on junior forward Nolan Moyle. The Wolverines disrupted the power play again and again, only allowing Ohio State to get a single shot on goal before Michigan returned to full strength.
Two minutes later, the Buckeyes’ forward Joe Dunlap was called for holding, giving the Wolverines their own chance on the power play. Michigan was noticeably more efficient playing with the advantage.
The period ended scoreless, mostly a testament to both teams’ goaltenders. But it wasn’t junior Strauss Mann, Michigan’s reliable starter, between the pipes for the Wolverines. Instead resided freshman Erik Portillo. Before Friday’s game, Portillo had just two appearances — against Penn State and Minnesota — being substituted in after Mann allowed six and four goals, respectively.
Against Ohio State, Portillo saved 19 shots, some made from dangerous areas of the ice, for a save percentage of 0.905.
Seven minutes into the second period, Michigan finally made it on the board. With a feed from Brisson, Moyle got the puck to the hashmarks of the right circle. The shot flew past Buckeyes’ goaltender Tommy Nappier to put the Wolverines up by one.
Michigan had another opportunity on the power play later in the period after a slashing call on Ohio State forward Collin Peters, but, again, it failed to capitalize. On the second go-around, the Wolverines looked less commanding with the advantage. They struggled to set up its power play unit and allowed the Buckeyes to control possession for most of the penalty.
Michigan matched the Buckeyes’ penalty with its own two minutes into the third period — its second hooking penalty of the game. Ohio State found the equalizer with just seconds to go in the power play. While the play was put under review for a possible off-sides violation, the call on the ice stood, leaving the score tied at one.
Throughout the third period, the Buckeyes challenged Michigan in its zone entry, but the Wolverines’ offense powered through.
“We just went back to try and get pucks behind them,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We just we just needed a shift.”
And then the shift came. Brisson notched his own goal with nine minutes to go, regaining the momentum the Wolverines had lost early in the period.
“We really want to just to keep things simple and keep driving them down,” Brisson said. “(Freshman forward Thomas) Bordeleau was lucky enough to find that (pass) to me, and I was just there in front of that and just put it home, so I feel like we just created momentum as the period went on.”
Just minutes after Brisson’s goal, Michigan extended its lead to two when sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini poked the puck in from the corner of the crease.
With the clock winding down, the Buckeyes made a last-ditch effort, pulling Nappier with 3:30 minutes to go. Moyle — who had both the first and last of Michigan goals — took the puck down the length of the ice, putting the puck between the pipes with a casual, almost lazy flick of the wrist.
A tripping penalty was called on freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau with a minute to go, and Ohio State notched the final goal, but it was too late.
The Wolverines’ commanding performance in the third period had decided the game well before.