SOUTH BEND — Just 27 seconds into the Michigan hockey team’s game at No. 15 Notre Dame (15-10-3 overall, 8-8-2-2 Big Ten), junior forward Will Lockwood was sent to the penalty box for interference.
One minute and 44 seconds later, forward Dylan Malmquist fired a shot from the right circle that went over junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s shoulder. After taking a penalty so early in the game, the Wolverines (12-12-6, 8-8-4-2) found themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“We took penalties that weren’t saving goals or protecting teammates,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “They were selfish. You can’t do that on the road against a good team.”
The Fighting Irish added two goals in under a minute in the second period to put the game firmly out of reach for Michigan, who lost, 5-2.
At the end of the first period, the Wolverines trailed by two goals but appeared to be close to cutting into Notre Dame’s lead. Shots on goal favored the Fighting Irish, 8-7, but Michigan’s chances were good looks that goaltender Cale Morris — who ranks 11th in the nation in save percentage — was able to stop.
The Wolverines killed off a penalty that carried over from the opening stanza to start the second period and from there took control of the game for a few minutes. They generated breakaway chances, worked to keep the puck in the offensive zone and put pressure on Morris.
Despite that pressure, it wasn’t until Lockwood picked up the puck at center ice that Michigan had a ‘Grade-A’ scoring opportunity. Lockwood weaved his way through three defenders from the neutral zone and found himself all alone in front of Morris.
Lockwood waited until Morris bit before releasing his shot. The puck bounced off one of the posts and into the net. For a moment, the Wolverines were firmly within striking distance.
“They were going for a line change and it was delayed offsides,” Lockwood said. “I think (senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi) was just screaming to get up as fast as I can. Saw a lane, I think there was a pick at the blueline or something. Two guys ran into each other. Fortunately enough, kinda just went down (on) a breakaway.”
But 50 seconds later, forward Jake Pivonka fired a shot through the legs of senior defenseman Nicholas Boka that found twine behind Lavigne.
And under a minute after that, forward Michael Graham scored off a faceoff win for Notre Dame.
“It’s pretty devastating,” Lockwood said. “We’ve gotta learn to find momentum when it’s not there. That’s something we gotta work on.”
The game that appeared to be in reach for Michigan suddenly wasn’t, trailing 4-1 entering the third period.
The Wolverines had a chance to cut into Notre Dame’s lead with about 10 minutes to go in the final period when Cecconi sent the puck in from the blueline. It ended up loose in the crease and Morris had moved to the outside — there was a wide-open net for Michigan. But there wasn’t a Wolverine in the area to clean up the rebound, and Michigan’s best chance of the period to that point was neutralized.
From there, the Wolverines lost their composure.
Cecconi — Michigan’s captain — took two penalties in the final stanza and seconds after he left the box, sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes slashed a Notre Dame player.
“Disappointed (with the penalties), especially from our leaders,” Pearson said. “You can’t do that. Things aren’t going to go your way and you have to maintain your focus. You have to continue to play for the team and you can’t take things personally in your own end.”
While on the penalty kill, freshman forward Garrett Van Wyhe picked up a loose puck at the blueline. Defenseman Bobby Nardella slipped and fell trying to stop Van Wyhe from having a one-on-none breakaway and Van Wyhe buried a shot five-hole on Morris.
But on the very next shift, Notre Dame came back down the ice and tallied its second power-play goal of the game. Just when Michigan had hope, the Fighting Irish once again eliminated that hope within just a few seconds.
“Disappointed just (with) how things unraveled in the third period,” Pearson said. “We lost our cool. We lost our composure. We lost our discipline and you can’t do that. Things aren’t gonna go your way each and every night. You’re gonna have some adversity and its how you deal with it.”
After earning their first sweep of the Big Ten season last weekend, the Wolverines certainly found adversity in South Bend. And with just four regular-season games left, Michigan may run out of time to learn to deal with that adversity.