MINNEAPOLIS — The two-minute intermission before overtime Saturday night had an eerie feeling.
It was a grim feeling, a dooming feeling, an ‘it’s going to happen again’ feeling. A feeling, that for the No. 8 Michigan hockey team, was all too familiar.
The Wolverines had been there before. They’d seen the ending, and it wasn’t pleasant.
Yet, in the moments that make or break entire seasons, Michigan (14-9-1 overall, 6-8 Big Ten) escaped the clutches of déjà vu, surmounting No. 2 Minnesota in a heavyweight, 5-4 overtime victory. Rejuvenated by lineup changes, the Wolverines benefited from the dual-threat potency of their new top-six against a mammoth opponent.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” freshman forward Gavin Brindley said. “Lot of firepower over there, some big boys who can skate. I just think (we were) playing really good defensively and taking care of our own zone and (letting) them make the mistakes we could capitalize on.”
The new top six, sporting Brindley’s promotion to the first line and sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich headlining the second trio, had already found success in its Friday night debut. Tallying four total points and finishing with 20 of Michigan’s 34 shots, the two lines were all over the ice in the overtime loss. Evidently fatigued by the finish, they left it all out there.
Thus, while sitting on the bench after the third period Saturday night, anticipating their second overtime finish in as many nights, that eerie feeling couldn’t help but begin to creep in for the Wolverines. Michigan had once more done all it could and yet somehow, it couldn’t put the Golden Gophers away.
But that eerie feeling wasn’t always there.
The Wolverines came alive from puck drop, hoping to wash away Friday’s wounds. Michigan smothered the Gophers through the first ten minutes of play; off the backs of none other than the same line changeups that brought them success the night before.The Wolverines eyed a rapid victory as a rebound strike from freshman forward Adam Fantilli put them up 2-0.
But Minnesota is the second-ranked in the country for a reason, so the Wolverines couldn’t hold the Gophers down for long. Minnesota came out of the break with renewed fervor. A flurry of shots and two goals later, Michigan’s once proud lead evaporated into a 3-2 deficit.
Yet when the Wolverines needed it most, the new-look top six responded.
Before the raucous cheers of Mariucci Arena could dissipate, freshman Jackson Hallum raced toward the net, firing a shot off the pad of Minnesota goaltender Justen Close that found its way to none other than Adam Fantilli for a 3-3 tie.
“They’re a great team and it took everything from us to have success,” Naurato said. “Proud of our guys for dealing with some adversity and just keep fighting back and sticking to the plan — it’s great.”
The plan, evidently, was to trust the top-six as the Gophers threw the kitchen sink at Michigan across a ferocious second period. Defending numerous offensive chances — including a 5-on-3 powerplay — the Wolverines’ top six guided them through thick and thin en route to a 4-3 lead entering the final 20 minutes.
And amid a nail-biting final frame, Michigan slipped one final time. With three minutes to go, the Gophers had one final rabbit in the hat — just as they had the night before. Minnesota forward Logan Cooley lifted a backhand pass onto the stick of undefended forward Bryce Brodzinski.
Suddenly, the Wolverines were transported back to a nightmare. As time expired and Michigan crowded around the bench one final time, déjà vu crept in.
But for Michigan, led by its new-look top six, it wasn’t so.
“Stuff happens, it’s hockey right?” Brindley surmised. “It’s a game and teams are going to score with two minutes left. It’s going to happen so it’s all about how you respond and we got the win tonight and it’s all that matters.”
It didn’t take much time either. Less than a minute into the final period as Fantilli and Brindley changed for fresh legs, sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes punctured the offensive zone and sent a pass to junior defenseman Jacob Truscott, who rifled it back into the net. As Truscott erupted in a walk-off triumph, Mariucci fell silent.
Rendering once-raucous Mariucci lifeless requires near perfection. To do so Saturday night, Michigan’s rejuvenated top six came through when it needed them most.