In the last 12 minutes of Sunday’s game against Boston University, the Michigan hockey team played how it wanted. It generated sustained pressure that spawned high-danger chances, and it thoroughly dominated play.
But after struggling to find its groove the previous 48 minutes, that rally came too late.
The sixth-ranked Wolverines (3-1 overall) dropped their first game of the season on Sunday, losing to the ninth-ranked Terriers in a close 3-2 affair. BU dominated the first two periods through their intensity on the puck, and Michigan struggled to match that hunger until the game’s waning moments.
“If we play the way that we did in the last 12 minutes for 60 minutes, we should have a chance to win every single game this year,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “… We didn’t defend as hard as we needed to, we weren’t as physical as we needed to (be). Everyone can talk about our offense but you win hockey games — that’s why the game is great — by checking for offense and playing the right way.”
That difference in physicality made itself apparent from the opening faceoff. BU’s gritty fourth line, featuring forwards Devin Kaplan, Sam Stevens and Nick Zabaneh, crashed the net hard and set a tempo in the very first shift. Even matched up with Michigan’s fourth line — including heavy-hitting sophomore forward Mark Estapa and senior forward Nolan Moyle — the Terriers played hard on the boards and made the Wolverines earn every inch of ice.
That physical effort translated onto the scoreboard. On BU’s first goal, forward Ryan Greene outmuscled senior defenseman Keaton Pehrson and threw a puck down low. Defenseman Cade Webber scrambled for the puck, chipping it into the net while falling hard to the ice after the shot. Physical sacrifice also created what turned out to be the game-winner, as BU won a power play battle along the boards and fed a wide open shooter in the slot.
Michigan found a way to keep the score close despite the Terriers’ mad dog efforts. It took the lead two separate times, relying on its speed in transition and its puck movement on the power play.
But every time the Wolverines trudged forward, BU scrambled harder on the puck. That not only caused Michigan to force passes in the first two periods, but it also cut down their offensive chances. Out of 79 shot attempts, the Terriers blocked 24 and forced 21 to go wide of the net.
BU’s physical play also frustrated Michigan, forcing bad penalties that came at key junctures of the game. The Terriers went 2-for-5 on the man advantage, both scored off unforced penalties in the second period.
“You’re not gonna win championships by being undisciplined,” sophomore forward Dylan Duke said. “… Our penalty kill has been good so far, so that’s also part of the game. Special teams was a huge part of this weekend and it’s gonna be a huge part going forward.”
Naurato echoed that sentiment.
“I just thought they had way more urgency of blocking shots and being physical and protecting their net front versus ours,” Naurato said.
Playing with that urgency, BU kept Michigan from generating meaningful chances until the final period. The Wolverines squeezed off 38 shot attempts in that period, pursuing a tying goal, but the Terriers came up clutch yet again. They blocked 15 shots and forced 11 more to go wide of the net.
By allowing its opponent to dictate play for so long, Michigan rallied too little, too late.