DURHAM, N.H. — Almost before anyone knew what was happening, Jake Gingell’s attempt at a pass out of Michigan’s defensive zone ended up on the tape of forward Angus Crookshank’s stick. The sophomore defenseman couldn’t do anything but watch as Crookshank steadied the puck and fired home a shot that cleanly beat senior goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
In the blink of an eye, New Hampshire tied the game at one goal apiece.
Thirty-nine minutes of back-and-forth hockey later, the Wildcats were once again on the receiving end of an errant zone-clearing pass. Once again, it was Crookshank who intercepted it.
Once again, his shot found twine — this time, to end the game just 36 seconds into overtime.
Two plays rarely tell the story of an entire game, but for the Wolverines in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to New Hampshire, the pair of defensive-zone turnovers that directly led to goals come pretty close to summarizing the night.
“We had a lot of turnovers in the third period tonight in what I call the danger zone, the top of the circles to the blueline, and that’s on our forwards,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson after the game. “We didn’t do a very good job for our defensemen, helping them out. Our forwards turned the puck over a number of times, and on the winning goal, same thing.”
In the third period, Michigan recorded just two shots on net while the Wildcats fired 11 shots at Lavigne. The total number of attempted shots, which includes shots that were blocked or missed the cage, was even more damning — the Wolverines were out-attempted, 34 to 5.
Michigan struggled throughout the weekend to clear its own defensive zone and create extended pressure in the offensive zone. Saturday’s third period was a microcosm of the issue — difficulty clearing coupled with a few key penalties and an inability to capitalize on the few scoring chances that arose ultimately was the Wolverines’ downfall.
On Friday, Michigan was able to grind out a win because it finished just a couple more chances than the Wildcats did, and the turnovers were rarely at key moments of the game or in high-danger areas. On Saturday, the reverse was true.
The Wolverines most noticeably slipped in the third period, but the issues that led to New Hampshire’s overtime winner were present throughout the game.
Michigan was on its heels early after senior forward Jake Slaker slashed a Wildcat just under two minutes into the game. While the Wolverines were able to kill off the penalty, having to go on the penalty kill so early — and then kill four more penalties throughout the game — put pressure on Michigan’s defensemen.
When New Hampshire began to pressure harder and harder late in the third period, the Wolverines had little left after killing four of five penalties in the game and eight of nine on the weekend.
“They pushed hard, we ran out of gas,” Pearson said. “We couldn’t get out of our zone. … We took a couple penalties, obviously, bad penalties, and we were on our heels. We just never recovered from that, even in overtime.”
And along with having to work to kill numerous penalties, Michigan struggled to clear the puck out of its defensive zone.
Whether there was a turnover in the neutral zone, or a bad pass out of the defensive zone, or any other of the number of ways the Wolverines failed to clear the puck, Michigan couldn’t buy time in the offensive zone.
The Wolverines could hardly press for a go-ahead goal as the game wound to a close. Every time Michigan was on the breakout, the Wildcats there to pounce on an unforced turnover or force one themselves.
“The turnovers are going to kill you,” Pearson said. “We have to get that out of our game.”
On Saturday, it was two turnovers that killed the Wolverines’ chance for their first sweep since Oct. 18-19. One led to a tying goal early in the second period and one led to the overtime game-winner.
In both situations — and throughout the game — it was mistakes by Michigan that led to chances for New Hampshire, and the Wildcats were ready to capitalize.