MINNEAPOLIS — Seven minutes into the second period, Strauss Mann watched a Gopher skater take to his right.
The attacker had gone wide after making a turnover into a one-on-none breakaway but was now moving inward toward the net as the distance closed between him and Mann. He cut into the crease, hoping Mann would bite for his long drag. Mann did not.
The sophomore goaltender gloved the shot, ending the threat.
Michigan coach Mel Pearson immediately called his team’s only timeout. He had seen enough. Half of the second period hadn’t even gone by yet, but Mann was having to put the team on his back.
The timeout made little difference, however. From that point on, Mann faced similar situations, if not worse — odd-man rushes, breakaways and man-disadvantages. All game, he had seen threats. But he was unfazed, putting together an effort to will the Wolverines to an extra point in a shootout, after a 2-2 tie at Minnesota on Friday.
“Without him playing the way he did, there’s no way we win this game,” senior forward Nick Pastujov said. “He was definitely the backbone of this win so we’re lucky to have him back there.”
The rest of the players knew it wasn’t their best defensive effort. Pearson called it their worst performance of the year. But regardless of whether they were cognizant of their defensive play or not, they were frustrated. It was tough to watch their teammate bail them out bad play after bad play. But to Mann, it’s always been his job to be the backbone of the team.
“He definitely won us the game tonight,” senior forward Jake Slaker said. “It wasn’t our best effort with our players, but you know, it’s huge having a goalie like that. It gives us a little bit more confidence when we make mistakes, and I think we made a lot of mistakes tonight, and he bailed us out tonight.”
He bailed them out when he had to face 39 shots in the second and third periods. He bailed them out when they took penalty after penalty. He bailed them out when Minnesota turned a man-disadvantage into two Grade-A shorthanded shots.
Whenever the team would slip up, he was there to catch their faults. When the game went to a shootout, he was there to make the saves.
“Story of the night, Strauss Mann,” Pearson said. “Just hope he has enough energy to play tomorrow, I don’t know if he can even get up right now. But he was outstanding, that’s the only reason we were still in the game and we’re fortunate to get two points.”
All game, the Gophers had played behind the net. They would skate across the red line hoping to find an opening once the defense started chasing. And Michigan chased, hoping to intercept the passes instead of defending its position around the gritty areas. And when they would find the open man waiting in front of the net, Mann was there to stop it.
To him, it was just instinct.
“I’m kind of just zoning in on the puck and trusting my instincts, trusting my practice habits,” Mann said. “Those are the moments where you kinda zone in and just dial in and trust your game.”
Regardless if he made 48 saves, stopped an odd-man rush or even let in a goal, his mentality stayed the same through it all. Just focus on the next puck and make the save. There were times where it got difficult to remember that, but he didn’t have any other choice.
“Whether I make a save or goal,” Mann said, “it can be tough when the crowd is going crazy and what not but just remind myself I’m always trying to stop the next puck, that’s always the most important thing.
“Whether I make a save, I always have to stop the next puck. So I always remind myself of that and give my team a chance to win.”
And Friday night, he did just that.