STATE COLLEGE It’s no secret that Strauss Mann is one of the best goaltenders in the country. Entering Wednesday, the junior had given up just 1.33 goals per game this season, giving the Michigan hockey team a fighting chance no matter the circumstances in each of its first six games.

Wednesday night, he took it to another level. A 38-save effort from Mann was enough to lead the No. 7 Wolverines (5-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) to a 3-1 victory over Penn State (0-4).

“(Strauss) is unbelievable every single night,” junior forward Nolan Moyle said. “He’s always ready to go and he’s always prepared. Just another game for him.”

After failing to score the first goal in its last four games, Michigan got out to an early lead when Moyle deposited a wrist shot from the slot in the back of the net to give the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.

For a while, Michigan seemed to be hanging onto that early lead by a thread. The Wolverines could not sustain offensive zone pressure and put just six more shots on net in the rest of the first period, three of which came on a power play.

The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, got into a rhythm, forcing turnovers and making their presence known in the offensive end. Multiple impressive saves from Mann — including one on a shot from just outside the crease and a one-timer from Penn State defenseman Christian Berger on an odd-man rush — preserved Michigan’s lead.

It wasn’t until nearly eight minutes into the second period that the Wolverines extended the margin. With only 20 seconds left on a power play, freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau hit freshman forward Brendan Brisson at the right circle with a cross-ice pass. Brisson found senior forward Michael Pastujov to the left of the goal, and in one smooth motion, Pastujov brought the puck to his backhand fooling Nittany Lions goalie Oskar Autio and shot it into an open net for his fourth goal of the season.

“Mike is just starting to come into his own,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s not a coincidence that he’s off to a good start. He’s always been a skilled player, always been good around the net. Now he’s working harder in other areas without the puck.”

While Pastujov’s goal gave the Wolverines a little more breathing room, their two-goal lead still seemed far from secure. But it was all Mann needed. Penn State continued to generate high-quality scoring chances, but couldn’t get past him.

Twice he bailed out Michigan following bad turnovers, first stoning Nittany Lions’ forward Kevin Wall on a breakaway and later gobbling up a wrist shot from the slot.

“We made a lot of mistakes but he was there to help us out,” freshman defenseman Jacob Truscott said. “We needed him tonight, he stood on his head. So (we’re) thankful for that.”

Halfway through the third period, Penn State finally got the best of Mann. Defenseman Evan Bell finished off a cross-crease pass from Wall just out of Mann’s reach, cutting the Wolverines’ lead to a precarious one.

From there Mann buckled down. Despite multiple Nittany Lions chances from prime locations, they couldn’t get another past Mann, and an empty-net goal from freshman forward Matty Beniers sealed the deal for Michigan. 

“As the game wore on, when the game was on the line, that’s when he really stepped forward, Pearson said. “And that’s where you differentiate between a goalie who’s really, really good. It’s when you’re on the road, the team’s pressing you, they’re getting some good chances, and you need him to stand up.”

While Mann has been rock solid for the Wolverines all season, on Wednesday it felt like he truly stole them a much-needed win.

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