With 10 minutes left in the third period, sophomore defenseman Tyler Duke skated toward the bench, hunched over in pain and coughing up blood. Taking a puck to the ribs after laying down his whole body to block a shot, he took the pain to save the No. 8 Michigan hockey team from a different kind of pain — another loss.
“You gotta sacrifice for the team,” Duke said. “You don’t want those pucks to get through and you want to do everything you can for your goalie.”
The Wolverines have met countless third period fallouts this season and were potentially facing another in the Saturday matchup against No. 6 Minnesota. But after clinching an extra Big Ten point in an overtime shootout win, its powerful defensive unit was the main element driving Michigan’s success.
The Wolverines held the Golden Gophers scoreless in the first period, largely due to their defensive core’s strength in blocking shots. Playing with a depleted roster, Michigan relied on five defensemen for most of the game, forcing them into more play time and harder battles. But they took this challenge in stride, pressing into the offensive zone, taking shots of their own and finding shooting lanes to provide forwards with scoring opportunities.
After neither team received a penalty in the first period, the inevitable came when sophomore forward Josh Eernisse got in a scrum with a Minnesota player and created a four-on-four opportunity. The entire Michigan team blocked shot after another, and the forwards provided strong backcheck to mitigate Gopher breakaways.
Following the four-on-four sequence, the floodgates of penalties opened for the second period. After senior forward Philippe Lapointe went to the penalty box for tripping, Minnesota forward Brody Lamb took a far shot that landed in the top right shelf. However, the shot landing in the back of the net was unstoppable for every Wolverine.
“We were blocking shots, being hard,” Duke said. “And we knew we needed to be harder than last night and try to close out a lead.”
While Michigan was able to snatch the lead to go into the third period, it was met with a situation it knows too well, and needed to close the game — even if it took some physical pain.
With 10 minutes left in the period, Duke made the ultimate sacrifice and used his body as a shield to the goal. When Gophers forward Oliver Moore took a shot down the crease, Tyler Duke laid down to block the shot and the puck struck him in his ribs. However, using his body to shield graduate goaltender Jake Barczewski saved the Wolverines from a treacherous situation. Skating off the ice and coughing up blood, Duke went to get assessed by the medical staff. And in his absence, Minnesota tied up the game and sent it into overtime.
“Shoutout to Tyler Duke there,” Barczewski said. “That guy sells his whole body out. … And thats what you want to see in your teammates, especially your (defensive) core. Guys are throwing all their limbs on the line there to block shots and whenever I see that, it just makes me want to play that much harder for them.”
And Barczewski did play harder for them. Going into overtime, Michigan was energized behind Duke bailing them out of another regulation loss. Barczewski and sophomore defenseman Seamus Casey, in particular, topped off Duke’s hard work on the night by giving the Wolverines the shootout win.
Thanks to the defensemen, specifically Duke, Michigan didn’t concede another late loss. They threw their “limbs on the line.” And Duke did this best, even if it meant taking a puck to the ribs in the process.