MINNEAPOLIS — Everyone on the ice knew the magnitude of the shot.
The game was building the way where any momentum shift would tilt the balance in a defining fashion. The Michigan hockey team had tallied the first goal halfway through the second period, but Minnesota answered almost immediately after.
The rest of the period was a stalemate, and entering the third frame, an eerie feeling in the air built at Mariucci Arena.
“It almost felt like whoever scored that next goal was going to win,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said.
Nick Granowicz had mounting frustrations.
For one, all game, he had generated chances and been given good looks only to spoil the opportunities with a whiff or a bad pass. Sure, his line had good shifts, but they don’t mean anything if he couldn’t finish the job.
Second of all, it was his line that had been out there for the Gophers’ only goal. Pearson had waved it off as a fluky goal, a lucky bounce. But ultimately, they were the ones out there.
Granowicz skated back from the point. He had watched the play go down. He had watched the cut by a Minnesota skater to draw in the defense, watched the extra pass make its way to the open Gopher — one that converted the goal as he was falling down. Granowiz skated to the side, and then to the bench, feeling frustrated. But he didn’t falter.
“We could have hung our heads and said, ‘Screw that. That was a garbage goal, a lucky goal,’ ” senior forward Jake Slaker said. “But we got back to the bench and said, ‘Hey, let’s get it back.’ ”
When the Slaker-Morgan-Granowicz line took to the ice for their first shift in the third period, they did it with a purpose. Luke Morgan had battled hard against the wall to retain the puck. With the puck possession firmly established in the offensive zone by Michigan, they went to work.
Jack Summers shot the puck from the blue line, aiming to get it on net. It deflected wide, blocked by a Gopher, but Slaker was right there to chase it down and around the net. He curled in from behind, looking only to get it out to the Michigan skaters waiting at the blue line. It was his first instinct to prolong the possession even further.
But he caught a glimpse of something in the corner of his eye.
Granowicz had slipped into quiet ice in front of the net, unnoticed by everyone. That is, unnoticed by almost everyone. Slaker saw the open man in his peripheral and fed him the puck. Slaker knew that, this time, Granowicz was ready for it. And unlike in the earlier periods, Granowicz finished the job.
He didn’t leap into the glass or scream with excitement in celebration. He simply turned to his teammates, stoic expression and all, and let them, the moment and the goal come to him. There was no more frustration, but you couldn’t tell from the way he looked as he skated back to the bench.
Did he know that he had just scored the game winner, the one that would clinch Michigan home ice in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament after it held on to beat Minnesota, 2-1? Or that he had revived the Wolverines’ hopes for a deep postseason run? Maybe not, but every player on the ice knew the magnitude of that shot.
It had won Michigan the game.