MINNEAPOLIS — Strauss Mann already killed five Minnesota power plays heading into overtime, but a sixth one reminded the Michigan hockey team that his magic in the net was exactly that — impressive, but in the end, not sustainable.
Though Mann and the Wolverines fought through those penalty kills, a multitude of Minnesota odd-man rushes and a third period that saw them outshot 14-5, the freshman goaltender carried the defense on his back — until Brannon McManus broke it in overtime when a dime from Rem Pitlick found its way to the top of the crease and through Mann’s five-hole.
“I think we put a lot of time and effort into their power play,” Mann said. “I think we executed that really well. At the end, obviously, we had a little bit of a breakdown, but it happens in the course of a night. There’s gonna be some times where it’s not gonna go exactly your way, but I think we really (bore) down defensively and I liked our defensive effort tonight.”
After Michigan went up 2-0, the Golden Gophers tested Mann’s mettle. Early in the second period, Minnesota’s Sammy Walker intercepted a pass deep in the Wolverines’ defensive zone, leaving the goaltender on an island with the forward.
Walker deked the freshman at the top of the crease and twirled his stick in an attempt to go behind Mann, but in seconds, he found himself flying and goalless, courtesy of Mann’s outstretched pad.
“It’s just kind of an in-game moment,” Mann said. “You get breakaways sometimes, and you just have to bear down, battle and hope you come up with the save.”
While the Wolverines loomed large on the power play, the times they got into trouble were when they left their freshmen goaltender — as talented and as productive as he might be — out to dry. Tyler Sheehy scored the Golden Gophers’ first goal after multiple rebounds off Mann’s pads. And after Michigan snuffed out a two-on-one odd man rush toward the middle of the third period, Minnesota came back on the very next series with a successful breakaway.
“Well we didn’t finish our chances, they pushed back,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We had a bad read to begin the two-on-one. … It’s just a tough read by the defender.”
Mann’s first postseason start is a good lesson on the cruelty of hockey.
Pearson noted that many times tonight, the bounces and pucks didn’t always go the Wolverines’ way. Michigan had its fair share of goals that hit pipe, or scrums around the Golden Gopher net that could have taken a few more opportune bounces. Losing sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes for overtime was another piece of bad luck.
At the same time though, Mann was the great equalizer. No matter what misfortune Michigan encountered on the ice, one swerve or one outstretched pad by the freshman could render it all moot.
For most of the game, Mann’s magic didn’t falter. But when Michigan’s did, so did his.