Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Trailing by one late in the first period, the Michigan hockey team was looking to find its rhythm when senior forward Michael Pastujov took a holding penalty. Fifty-eight seconds later, Minnesota forward Sammy Walker extended the lead to two.
The Gophers went on to win, 4-0, dealing the Wolverines their fifth loss in six games. As was largely the case in Michigan’s previous four losses, the main culprit was penalties.
“I got caught playing defense and just had to make a desperation play and take a penalty,” Pastujov said. “But our PK’s just gotta be better. … It stinks going down 2-0 early, but we’re a team that can bounce back from that.”
Throughout the game, the Wolverines didn’t just make careless mistakes; they strung them together. Just as the puck bounced out of the net after the Gophers’ second goal, Michigan sophomore defenseman Jack Summers fired it down the ice, earning a 10-minute misconduct. Although it didn’t put the Wolverines on the penalty kill, it cut them down to five defensemen for ten minutes in a game where one of their top blueliners — sophomore Cam York — was already out for World Juniors.
Perhaps the most crucial error came 6:21 into the second period, when Michigan was still down 2-0. Just as the Wolverines got some sustained offensive pressure for the first real time all game, sophomore forward Nick Granowicz got booked for a tripping penalty. Twenty-two seconds into the power play, Minnesota forward Jaxon Nelson came in untouched on a rebound and made it 3-0.
Even in the third period, when the game was all but settled, Michigan continued to shoot itself in the foot. A boarding call on Granowicz — followed by cross-checking penalties on freshman forward Philippe Lapointe and junior defenseman Nick Blankenburg — dispelled all hope of a miracle comeback. When the final horn sounded, Michigan had racked up a whopping 22 minutes on seven penalties (though ten of those minutes were spent at full strength).
“We gotta first block some shots,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “On (the Gophers’ first power-play goal), we didn’t get in the lane and just let them shoot the puck, and on the second one it was just a blown coverage.”
Entering this season, one of the Wolverines’ main goals was to be the least-penalized team in the country. The opposite is true; their 111 penalty minutes this season are the most in the NCAA. It’s not much better if you go by penalty minutes per game — their mark of 11.1 is eleventh worst in the country.
These unforced errors are becoming a theme. Michigan spent 12 minutes with four players on the ice Wednesday. You can’t do that and expect to beat anybody, let alone the No. 4 team in the country. When the Wolverines come back for the second half of their schedule, they’ll have to find a way to stay out of the box.
If they can’t, there will be a lot more four-goal games in their future.
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