Michigan came into Saturday’s contest against Lake Superior State eyeing a series sweep. But after a hot start faded into defensive struggles, it seemed destined for a loss.
After striking early in the first period, the third-ranked Wolverines (2-0 overall) struggled to deny the Lakers’ (1-3) speedy offense. Michigan’s experienced third line of senior forward Michael Pastujov, senior forward Jimmy Lambert and graduate forward Luke Morgan led its resurgence in a 7-4 comeback win.
Just 22 seconds into the game, Michigan found itself on the power play after the Lakers’ forward Louis Boudon made a hand pass off the faceoff. Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau fired a cross-ice pass to sophomore forward Brendan Brisson as he sent it into the top left corner for Michigan’s first goal, just 38 seconds into the man advantage.
Pastujov added to that lead two minutes later. After firing a low wrist shot from the hash marks, he cradled his own rebound and fired an uncontested wrist shot past the Lakers’ goaltender Ethan Langenegger. Less than three minutes in, the Wolverines owned a 2-0 lead.
But Michigan’s early momentum proved fleeting.
As Lake Superior State forward Tim Bakos made a pass to his forward, senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg leveled him with a high hit. Bakos lay on the ice, but forward Brett Roloson put the Lakers on the board after a 2-on-1 rush culminated in a rebound goal.
Lake Superior State kept its attack rolling, seemingly inspired by the previous play. The Lakers broke up many of the Wolverines’ zone entries and spent lots of time in their offensive zone. Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo kept Michigan on top with a series of dangerous saves halfway through the first period.
But Portillo couldn’t deny the Lakers all game, and soon their ample chances came to fruition. After two forwards sprung for a 2-on-0 rush, Lake Superior State forward Joshua Wildauer put the puck past Portillo’s blocker and knotted up the score.
Soon after, sophomore forward Matty Beniers took a penalty for interference, and Lakers forward Brandon Puricelli shot the puck right above Portillo’s shoulder. As the first period ended, the underdogs owned a 3-2 lead.
Lake Superior State wasn’t finished, though, and its offensive momentum kept rolling. Boudon scored off a series of passes down-low, shooting the puck bar down less than a minute into the second period.
“It was a hard fought game, we knew we were gonna get that from them,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s hard to win back-to-back games against anybody in college hockey, but I thought our guys did a good job, especially after we dug ourselves a hole.”
Many of the Lakers’ chances came as Michigan struggled to track down rebounds. The Lakers earned plenty of second- and third-chance shots, and the Wolverines spent lots of time and energy shutting down these plays.
Halfway through the second, the Wolverines regained their composure. They extended their own scoring threats and cleaned up their defensive play. Michigan came close to scoring multiple times, denied only by untimely falls or narrowly missed shots.
The third line got Michigan back on the board as a Pastujov wrist shot trickled through Langenegger’s fivehole. The Wolverines were still down a goal, but they had taken control of the game. They returned to making skilled passes and generating shots like they had to start the game. Later, Lambert scored the equalizer with 1:27 minutes left in the second, and Michigan was back in the driver’s seat.
“We’ve been through a lot of situations, we’ve seen a lot of lead changes,” Pastujov said. “And just sticking to our game plan, we kind of took it on ourselves to get everybody rolling, and we put two in and really got everybody on the same page.”
As the Lakers tried to regain the lead with around 30 seconds left in the second, Portillo made a solid save and controlled his own rebound, a night-and-day performance from 20 minutes prior.
A couple minutes into the third period, Lake Superior State forward Miroslav Mucha took a tripping penalty. It took just 20 seconds for Brisson to score another power play goal from the circle using his patented one-timer.
Halfway through the period, sophomore defender Jacob Truscott shot the puck through traffic and past Langenegger. The third line created chaos for the goal to go through, and the Wolverines owned a 6-4 lead.
Bordeleau cemented Michigan’s victory with around six minutes left in the game. Still, the Lakers tried to leverage a physical presence to get back in the game. Bordeleau and Lake Superior State forward Cole Craft were ejected with 5:11 minutes left in the game after a series of scrums behind the Lakers’ goal.
The Wolverines’ third line proved the difference-maker in a gutcheck performance, using its poise to rally from a two-goal deficit. Michigan didn’t play like a talent-laden juggernaut, but it was able to eke out a win.
The young Wolverines got punched in the mouth, but their seasoned forwards taught them how to fight back.