Eight minutes into the second period of Tuesday’s game against No. 4 Minnesota, freshman forward Philippe Lapointe scampered out of the penalty box. At a crucial juncture of the game, his teammates had killed off his two-minute slashing minor and maintained the scoreless tie. Now, the Wolverines could work toward getting their own offense going.

At least, they could for 27 seconds. Just when it looked like No. 5 Michigan (5-4) might be able to get some momentum, it was booked for too many men on the ice. On the second man advantage, the Gophers (7-0) made no mistake, as forward Sampo Ranta buried a rebound goal just fifteen seconds into the power play.

In a battle that looked to be tightly contested from the opening face off, the Wolverines’ mental error put them on their heels and ultimately cleared the way for a 3-1 Gophers victory. 

The goal opened up the Minnesota offense in a game that had previously been a defensive battle. Entering the game, Michigan adopted a more physical brand of hockey than usual — understandably — as five of its more skilled players have already left Ann Arbor for World Juniors. 

“I just think overall we’re trying to play a more physical game and wear teams down,” junior defenseman Nick Blankenburg said. “We just gotta be more physical, and I think throughout a series and throughout a game that will help out with our forecheck and just with our overall play.”

Early on, that physicality was effective in limiting Minnesota’s scoring chances. An aggressive Michigan forecheck held the puck in the offensive zone, and junior goaltender Strauss Mann easily stopped what few opportunities there were. At one point, the Gophers looked like they’d broken through when a shot in front found the back of the net, but the goal was waived off for goalie interference, leading to a 0-0 tie entering the first intermission. 

The Gophers’ first goal changed the momentum of the game more effectively than anything Michigan had been able to do. For much of the second period, Minnesota controlled the pace of play and held the puck in the Wolverines’ zone. They put shots on Mann and forced Michigan into mistakes. Ultimately, that pressure culminated in a second goal late in the period that put the Wolverines deeper in the hole. 

“They have a really good forward group,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They can get the puck up to those forwards … and they had a number of good scoring opportunities. They just play with a lot of speed, so you gotta try to slow them down a little bit.” 

As the game wore on, the Wolverines struggled to do just that. Early in the third period, Gophers forward Ben Meyers cut through the Michigan defense and fired a shot past Mann to extend the lead to three. Although freshman forward Kent Johnson broke the shutout moments later with a smooth deke and backhand goal, a pair of costly penalties kept the Wolverines at bay and effectively sealed the loss. 

“Our message to our team is we had too many passengers tonight,” Pearson said. “We didn’t play a disciplined enough game, not just the penalty, but just the overall game. … Our upperclassmen, we need more from some of those guys in a game like this. I’m a little disappointed. 

“You have to hate to lose.”

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