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SOUTH BEND — With the Wolverines up four goals with eight minutes to play, the No. 3 Michigan hockey team’s game against No. 18 Notre Dame on Friday probably should have ended quietly. 

For 52 minutes, the Wolverines dominated the Fighting Irish, controlling tempo and time of possession.

But in those last eight minutes, that dominant play faded into the past. Fight after fight after fight broke out, as the game devolved into nothing short of a brawl. 

“I think they were frustrated because we took it to them most of the game,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “… I don’t blame them for being down and being frustrated, and doing what they did.” 

Naurato isn’t wrong; the Irish were frustrated for obvious reasons. Tensions run hot in rivalry games. Each hit adds a little more fuel to the fire, and soon those tensions boil over. Plays where players would have been previously content to just exchange words end up in full-on fights — it’s part of hockey. 

But the way that Friday’s clash devolved, it felt like more than typical in-game feuds. After eight minutes of constant fighting, including 13 penalties and three misconducts in that stretch alone, it becomes more than that. While both teams will try to leave tonight in the past, those eight minutes won’t brush off as easily as other games will. 

Well before that treacherous final stretch, the heated back-and-forth of a rivalry game was already underway. With two minutes left in the first period, Notre Dame defenseman Jake Boltmann slammed sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich into the boards, earning himself a game misconduct and a five-minute major for hitting from behind. The Irish successfully challenged another hit on the play, sending freshman forward Adam Fantilli to the box with a five-minute major of his own for contact to the head.

In a vacuum, those hits and the resulting majors might not have had a lasting impact. Similarly, none of the individual fights of the last eight minutes would have left much of a mark in a vacuum.

When sophomore forward Dylan Duke took a shot after the whistle, of course Notre Dame defenseman Ryan Helliwell would stand up for his goalie. When senior forward Nolan Moyle ran into goaltender Ryan Bischel, of course forward Trevor Janicke would protect him. And when something similar happened on the other end, of course sophomore forward Mark Estapa was there to protect junior goaltender Erik Portillo.  

But therein lies the crux of the matter: it wasn’t in a vacuum. As one fight devolved into eight minutes of a brawl, it grew into something more. 

Yes, fights are going to happen in hockey, but rarely in a manner like this. 

When it does happen like this, it’s no longer a one-game thing. 

“They’re gonna come out 10 times harder (tomorrow),” sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich said. 

Saturday, the Irish won’t simply forget the frustration they had the night before. But that hatred between the two teams that prevailed in the final eight minutes will almost certainly carry beyond tomorrow, to when the two meet again in Ann Arbor and potentially beyond.

There’s no love lost between the Wolverines and Notre Dame; there never has been. But with a game like this, with a mess like what culminated Friday, that changes the composition of the rivalry for the rest of the season.

Maybe it’s for the better; maybe both teams come out fired up, and it elevates the game. But more likely, continued fighting leads to distractions from the game at hand.

Because for 52 minutes, Michigan displayed a commanding performance against one of its biggest rivals. Yes, tensions ran hot, but for the most part, those tensions held to the time before the whistle. But when the game is all but over, when there are 2.8 seconds left and the Wolverines and Irish are still going at it, it’s no longer within the game. 

When the first thing on everyone’s mind is no longer those 52 minutes, but the eight-minute slugfest that had no real impact on the game’s outcome, it takes away from the play on the ice.

When there’s a mess like this, it prevents the rivalry from reaching its peak.