When the clock hit zero on the scoreboard at Yost Ice Arena on Friday night, Luke Martin immediately turned to Strauss Mann — who was lingering in the net.
No words were exchanged, but a smile broke open on Martin’s face as he skated toward the netminder, only able to nod in appreciation for the goaltending masterpiece Mann had just procured.
Why? Because the sophomore goaltender had just earned his first career shutout in a 4-0 victory for Michigan over Lake Superior State.
Mann turned away all 24 shots he faced. When there was a stick save that needed to be made, his stick was there. If the puck was bouncing around in the crease, Mann quickly captured it in his glove. In moments where Michigan gave up odd-man rushes, he kept Lake Superior’s shots from finding the netting.
“Let’s call it what it is,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Our goaltender was the first star. We gave them way too many scoring opportunities. He was the difference in the game. Strauss played excellent.”
Excellent is underselling his performance on a night the Wolverines struggled heavily on defense. Due to circumstances — freshman Cam York was out with injury and senior Griffin Luce was serving a one-game suspension — Michigan’s defensive depth was tested. In their places, the Wolverines dressed sophomore Jake Gingell and for the first time, fifth-year senior Shane Switzer.
Tonight, Switzer showed the rust of having played merely 31 games in his four years at Boston University. He turned over the puck multiple times in the defensive zone and forced Mann to make challenging saves. Time and time again though, Mann shut down the Lakers before they garnered any offensive momentum.
His performance was the key to Michigan’s victory.
In the first period, Mann didn’t see much action. The Lakers only tallied six shots, and Michigan controlled the flow of the game. But he stayed ready, crouched in the crease and waited for a puck to come his way. About halfway through the period, Lake Superior rattled a shot off the post. There was no rebound. Mann had already swallowed the puck in his glove.
The dominant grip the Wolverines had on the Lakers dwindled in the second period. Michigan was out shot 11-10 and seemed to have lost some of its defensive finesse. But the score didn’t reflect it. Why? One man — Strauss Mann.
Mann came up with saves again and again. Late in the second, and during a Wolverine power play, the puck found the stick of Lake Superior forward Brendan McKay. Looking up, McKay had nothing but open ice. Mann crouched in the goal at the other end. With a burst of speed, McKay took off on a breakaway. But the lack of Wolverines back to defend him didn’t matter. When the play ended the puck was in Mann’s glove, not the back of the net.
“Sometimes in a game of bounces stuff happens,” Mann said. “Guys get breaks. I was lucky to make a couple of those stops. Some nights those pucks go in, but you just gotta keep battling and keep focusing on the next shot and try and keep the team in it.”
Mann continued his one-man campaign even when the team faced a one-man disadvantage. The Lakers were held 0-for-4 on the power play, and Mann was Michigan’s most important penalty killer. During moments where the Wolverines couldn’t get a line change in and their defenders were tired, Mann supported his team in net. Lake Superior’s physical forwards couldn’t crash the net because Mann owned his crease.
Even in the third period, when Michigan held a comfortable 4-0 lead, Mann showed no slip in concentration. As the last minutes ticked off the clock, Lake Superior applied the pressure in the Wolverines’ defensive zone. This increased pressure caused Switzer to turn over the puck right in front of the net.
But there was Mann, ready to make the pad save and deny any chance at a rebound.
“Strauss is a house,” Switzer said.
And Friday, he certainly was.