Following a three week layoff, there were concerns that the Michigan hockey team’s offense would be slow to get going. After a dominant win on Saturday, though, the Wolverines had appeared to put concerns of rust aside.
But on Sunday, the offense largely disappeared as the Wolverines fell to Wisconsin, 3-2.
“We just didn’t have that energy, and you could feel it right from the get-go,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Mentally, we just weren’t as sharp.”
The Wolverines controlled the pace early on, but the Badgers were blocking shots and frustrating the offense. As a result, Michigan spent a lot of time skating on the perimeter and looking for the perfect shot instead of putting pucks on net.
“I feel like we got a lot of chances,” freshman forward Brendan Brisson said. “They blocked a lot of shots. I got to find a way to get those through next time.”
Wisconsin, on the other hand, was able to settle into its offense and nine minutes in, Badgers’ forward Dylan Holloway scored a crackling goal off the right post to give Wisconsin the lead. The early deficit knocked the wind out of the sails for the Wolverines as they generated just one shot on goal the rest of the period.
Michigan’s offense finally showed signs of life 12 minutes into the second period, after only registering 11 shots on goal up to that point. Freshman forward Kent Johnson took a pass into the offensive zone, stopped on a dime and found freshman defenseman Owen Power jumping in on the rush. Power showed off an impressive offensive skill set for a defenseman, stickhandling through multiple Badgers and then flipping a forehand shot into the back of the net to tie the game at one.
“The only way you’re going to create outnumbered rushes or some offense is to get your defenseman to jump in the play,” Pearson said. “That was a heck of a goal by Owen Power. I think it showed his offensive creativity and showed the skill level tonight.”
Despite the highlight-reel goal, the offensive firepower was short lived and the onus remained on the defense to keep things even. After holding strong for the first 37 minutes, cracks finally started to show. Wisconsin made it 2-1 late in the second period and added a third goal 30 seconds into the third — a deficit that proved too much for the Wolverines to overcome in the final seconds.
Their energy ebbed and flowed down the stretch but Michigan didn’t score again until there were just two minutes left. The Wolverines had a chance to tie with their goalie pulled, but it was too little, too late.
The offense fell flat for large stretches of the game and instead of crisp passing and rifling shots, there were a lot of empty possessions and turnovers that defined the team’s performance. The lack of practice the past few weeks likely contributed to the Wolverines inability to get going — as the team played its first back-to-back games since Jan. 21 and 22.
“When you get tired and broken down, you start making more mental mistakes,” Pearson said. “I thought we had too many mental mistakes tonight.”
Michigan’s offense has been strong all season. Despite playing fewer games than any other team in the Big Ten, the Wolverines have the third-most goals in the league at 65. But Wisconsin has 83. And when Michigan’s offense went quiet, there was little hope for victory against the talent-laden Badgers’ roster.
“There’s a rivalry between us and every game is gonna be a battle like that,” Brisson said. “They play hard, we play hard. At the end of the day, they had more goals than us.”