Before the puck even dropped, something was different about the Michigan lineup.
Freshman defenseman Cam York was out with a lower body injury. Junior forwards Michael Pastujov and Jack Becker didn’t dress, either.
Instead, the roster featured sophomore defenseman Jake Gingell, sophomore forward Jack Olmstead and redshirt sophomore forward Emil Öhrwall.
And as the last seconds ticked off the clock at Yost Ice Arena, Michigan (0-1-1) felt their absence, as it lost to No. 11 Clarkson (1-0-1), 3-1.
“We had all the momentum,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “But it’s a bounce or a break here. They won the game but I can’t tell you that they’re the better team. I thought we played well and they got some bounces and some goaltending. But I feel good about a lot of things going on in the program.”
When the puck dropped, the Wolverines were ready to go. They fired shot after shot — none found the back of the net. But around the halfway point of the period, momentum started to slip away from Michigan. A shot came at sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann from the slot. Mann made the first save, but coughed up a rebound. A split second later, Golden Knights forward Adam Tisdale found the back of the net. Just like that, Clarkson took the lead, 1-0.
In the second period, the Wolverines were still unable to capitalize on their offensive opportunities. As the offense tried to even the score, in net, Mann worked tirelessly to keep his team down only one goal. He made glove saves. Pad saves. Stick saves. And even a couple saves while sprawled out on the ice.
“He was unbelievable this weekend,” said sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg. “The first three goals tonight, he didn’t have much of a chance on those. He’s keeping us in these games and he’s been great for us.”
Despite Mann’s impressive performance, the Wolverines found themselves down 2-0 in the opening minutes of the third period after the Golden Knights recovered a Griffin Luce turnover, sailing a pass to the right post. Clarkson forward Anthony Romano was faced with an open net, and a blink later, he beat Mann.
Desperate to cut the deficit with only a period remaining, Michigan pushed harder. Its first — and only — goal of the game came with 14 minutes remaining on the clock.
Blankenburg found Jake Slaker alone in the left faceoff circle. With pressure coming, he hit a one-timer at Clarkson’s goaltender. The puck came loose, and a split second later it was on the stick of senior forward Nick Pastujov, who sent the puck sailing into the back of the net.
And with that, the Wolverines were on the board, but still trailing, 2-1.
“It’s definitely nice to get that first one however you can,” Pastujov said. “We’ve been battling a lot, and we’ve been getting good chances. It’s nice to just pop that first one and hopefully just start rolling.”
The momentum from Pastujov’s goal resulted in an onslaught of Michigan offense. Every time the puck found a stick in the offensive zone, the Wolverines fired it towards the net. They were playing with a sense of urgency for the first time all night. In just a span of eight minutes, Michigan tallied 10 shots on goal.
As quick as the game had swung in favor of the Wolverines, the Golden Knights took back control. After redshirt junior Luke Morgan missed a shot on goal, Clarkson controlled the puck. Junior forward Grant Cooper skated the puck through center ice and into Michigan’s defensive zone. He fanned on the first attempt, but quickly rifled a backhanded shot into the net behind Mann.
Just like that, the Wolverines lost all momentum and were down two goals for the second time in the period.
Frustration set in. With under five remaining, Luce hit a Golden Knight from behind and earned a game misconduct. Because of the timing of the penalty, Michigan spent the remainder of the game playing a man down.
“You have to understand the time of the game, what’s going on, where you are on the ice, the situation,” Pearson said. “You have to understand that. I know Griff is — he plays hard, he plays physical. He plays all out. Sometimes, you just have to control your emotions and control your aggressiveness.
“You have to be more careful on that, especially (when) we’re doing everything we can to get back in the game.”