DETROIT — Michael Pastujov skated along the boards at center ice with the puck on his stick.
He looked up, then he looked left.
The junior forward didn’t see an open Wolverine. Instead, Pastujov threw the puck in the direction of the offensive zone and moved towards the bench for a change.
The puck never made it into the zone. Ferris State forward Liam MacDougall intercepted the pass and found himself with nothing but open ice in front of him.
MacDougall dashed toward Michigan’s net on a short-handed breakaway.
All alone, sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann waited and watched as the Bulldog forward approached him. When MacDougall fired his shot, Mann calmly deflected the shot up and away.
This save by Mann wasn’t the only time he bailed his team out, and Monday night was just one of many games this season where the Wolverines relied heavily on Mann’s performance in a 4-1 win over Ferris State.
“I think Strauss did a real nice job keeping us in the game,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We had a couple real bad line changes there in the first period, and he stopped those breakaways. Really, that’s the difference in the game. It gave us a chance to get settled down a little bit and play better.”
The Wolverines kept the Bulldogs’ offense limited. The chances that it did generate often never even made it to Mann, either a defender blocked the shot or it wasn’t perfectly on target.
But in the moments like MacDougall when Mann was the last line of defense, he remained calm and composed. It didn’t affect him that he went long periods of play without being forced to make a save.
In the second period, almost twenty minutes after he stopped one breakaway, Mann was tested again. Ferris State was on the power play and one of Michigan’s top penalty killers, sophomore forward Garrett Van Whye, was in the penalty box.
Though his team held a comfortable two-goal lead, Mann knew he needed to remain sharp. When he found himself with a Bulldog forward charging in his direction with a group of Wolverines chasing, Mann readied himself to make the save.
And once again, he did.
In between these crucial saves, Mann made use of his blocker and stick to deflect any stray pucks. He only made a handful of glove saves. When he had the chance, he came out and played the puck behind his net.
“I did feel Michigan’s goaltender played very, very well,” said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels. “Not only making saves, but he made them look easy. I thought he did a good job of steering the puck into open areas, controlling the rebound.”
At this time last year, Mann’s goaltending followed a very different storyline. He was still splitting time with then junior Hayden Lavigne and had an .890 save percentage. But now, Mann boasts a .932 and is the Wolverines’ starting goaltender. He attributes his success to his experiences from last year.
“Definitely having a year under my belt helps a lot,” Mann said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable, confident, a little bit calmer in net. I know the guys in front of me are going to play really well every night, so that’s a huge confidence boost.
“But yeah, I think we have a really close team and we’re on the same page every night, so when you have that, you don’t have to worry about other stuff. You can just focus on stopping the puck.”
Monday night, his confidence was obvious. Even after the Bulldogs scored a goal in the closing two minutes of the game, Mann wasn’t fazed.
Ferris State forward Brendan MacLaren buried the puck over the shoulder of Mann from off to the side of the net. With MacLaren’s goal, Mann’s chance at his third shutout of the season were dashed.
But by that point in the game, one goal for the Bulldogs didn’t matter. The game belonged to Michigan, and it owed its victory to Mann and his ability to step up for the team when it needed him.