MINNEAPOLIS — A deluge.
That’s the only way to describe the shower of shots that rained down on sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo. And like an umbrella, he kept the net dry.
Portillo carried the No. 3 Michigan hockey team to victory against No. 11 Minnesota, using his colossal 6-foot-6 frame to come up with timely stops. Peppered with 40 shots by the Golden Gophers’ dominant attack, Portillo allowed them to cash in on just one of their prime opportunities.
“(Portillo) always seems to be in the way,” Minnesota forward Bryce Brodzinski said. “Just getting (Michigan) moving … I think if we just get a puck on net there we have a really good shot at scoring.”
And Minnesota certainly got Portillo into those lateral movements. Passing between their defensemen at the point, the Gophers sent Michigan’s forwards scrambling to shut down shooting lanes. Particularly in the first 15 minutes of the game — when the Wolverines were outshot 14-4 — Portillo barely made it across the net to make key saves.
That’s how Brodzinski scored the game’s first goal, wide open in the slot and fed by a defenseman. With his defense caught in transition, Portillo quickly dropped into position but committed too far to his left and allowed his only goal.
Most times, Portillo got across to make a save, but that didn’t end his battle for saves. Minnesota’s belligerent forecheckers crashed the net for loose rebounds and he had to fight for every inch of the crease as his defensemen failed to clear screeners. Especially late in the game, forwards whacked at his pads like they were using curling brooms.
Tracking the puck through their imposing figures, Portillo leaned on his quick reflexes to keep the Gophers from capitalizing. Instinctual lunges kept their shots from scoring, black streaks staining Portillo’s pads like tallies noting every save.
Portillo’s stick played a massive role in that effort. During warmups, he swapped around his sticks and practiced batting the puck away. His premonition paid off, as his paddle swatted rebounds away from greedy Gophers looking for highlight-reel plays.
“We got a little cute at times as the game wore on pressing,” Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said. “You just got to put a guy in front of him and try to create havoc, and we did … He’s just feeling good today.”
That tendency to overplay the puck only increased as the game wore on. In the third period, Minnesota forward Sammy Walker fed forward Blake McLaughlin in the slot, passing up his own shooting lane to get Portillo moving. McLaughlin ripped the puck low on Portillo’s far side, but a lightning-quick kick save sent the puck flying the other way.
“Gosh I wish I could have that one back,” McLaughlin said. “… I thought I could have got a little better shot off but credit to him. He was there and kicked it out.”
It’s no secret that Portillo has been a revelation for Michigan this season. His stout goaltending comes up clutch for the Wolverines night after night — a big reason why Portillo is on the watch list for the Mike Richter Award, given to the nation’s top goaltender. And Saturday’s effort undoubtedly solidified his case. Portillo’s performance turned what could have been a drubbing in Minnesota’s favor into a win for Michigan.
Senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg recapped Portillo’s performance best: