Jack Summers took the puck out of his own goal and flung it down to the other end of the ice in frustration.
The junior defenseman just witnessed Michigan surrender its second goal of the game and knew they were facing an uphill battle the rest of the way. The action was followed by a 10-minute game misconduct penalty assessed to Summers.
The moment of anger was emblematic of Michigan’s undisciplined play that’s plagued them much of this season. The Wolverines didn’t do much to reverse this trend Wednesday night.
No. 4 Minnesota (8-0) dominated No. 5 Michigan (5-5), winning 4-0 — the Wolverines’ third straight loss and fifth in its last six games. They looked overmatched at times and committed a season-high seven penalties. Golden Gophers goaltender Jack LaFontaine stonewalled their offense, shutting down all 34 of their shots en route to their first goalless game of the season.
“Really disappointed in the result obviously,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We’ve got to find a way to get the job done.”
Senior forward Michael Pastujov added: “The pucks just weren’t going in. We were all over the net, all over the scoring area. He was just making good saves.”
Minnesota took no time getting on the board as a point shot through traffic trickled past junior goaltender Strauss Mann into the back of the net. The Golden Gophers set the tone early and dominated in shots and time of possession.
Michigan’s offense remained stagnant until junior forward Nolan Moyle had a breakaway opportunity. He tried to slide a shot past the Golden Gophers goaltender to no avail. The goalie calmly turned the puck aside and a golden opportunity washed away, squandered.
Just a couple minutes later, Minnesota capitalized on a golden opportunity of its own. With Pastujov in the box for a holding penalty, the Golden Gophers sustained offensive pressure and buried a rebound past Mann. The Wolverines trailed by two heading into the second period — again finding themselves playing catch up.
Michigan came out with a renewed energy to start the second period and created several chances in front of the net. Six minutes into the period, sophomore forward Nick Granowicz took a tripping penalty and the Wolverines quickly unraveled.
Twenty-two seconds into the power play, Minnesota pounced on a rebound for their third goal. Twenty-two seconds after that, the Golden Gophers scooped up a loose puck in the offensive zone and ripped a shot top shelf to make the lead 4-0. Mann was pulled from the game for freshman goaltender Erik Portillo.
“I’m glad Erik Portillo got in,” Pearson said. “I don’t like the way he got in.”
Inside an empty Yost Ice Arena, the loudest cheers could be heard from Minnesota’s bench. Their players were engaged, making noise after big hits and saves by their goaltender.
Michigan’s bench meanwhile, sat silently.
“We can get them to work hard, we can ask them to compete,” Pearson said. “But that’s got to be player driven; the energy that they bring to the game every night.”
The Wolverines entered the third looking for a spark, but once again set themselves back. Granowicz took another penalty — this time for boarding — just three minutes into the period and Minnesota continued to take the game to them. They were skating circles around Michigan and peppering shots on net.
“(Minnesota’s) as good as advertised,” Pearson said. “It gives our guys a pretty good idea of how we have to compete.”
As the final buzzer sounded, the team lined up on the blue line, slapped their sticks unenthusiastically and skated off the ice with their heads hanging.
After starting the season 4-0, the Wolverines are now reeling and have a losing record against Big Ten opponents. Michigan came into the season with a lot of hype and high expectations, but as they head into the break the team has a lot more questions than answers.
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