Tyler Duke has been put through the ringer this season with the No. 12 Michigan hockey team. But through it all — hard hits, pain and frustration — the sophomore defenseman has continued to battle until the end.
And Saturday night against Penn State he did it again.
Duke took a hit and crashed into the end boards toward the end of the second period but managed to return in the third period when his team desperately needed him. His return didn’t turn out to be a magic solution for the Wolverines by any means as they lost to the Nittany Lions, 5-3. Nevertheless, the tenacity he displayed meant something to his teammates.
“That guy is a dog,” sophomore forward Frank Nazar III said. “He’s a warrior. That’s probably the third time I’ve seen him do it this year, and just seeing him do that, it kind of gives you goosebumps around the team … like you should want to work for him now, not only yourself.”
Michigan was already playing for a host of injured teammates, which meant that the lineup was sparse to begin with. Losing a key defenseman in Duke, albeit temporarily, increased the ice time of the five other defenseman. Whether or not there was causation between Duke leaving the game and the Wolverines losing their lead was unclear — but there was a correlation.
Two and a half minutes after Duke suffered his injury, Penn State scored to claim a lead that it never relinquished. All the while, Duke remained sidelined on the bench, doubled over in pain.
As the third period got underway, Duke jumped out on the ice at nearly every stoppage of play to test his capabilities, clearly wanting to play. About five minutes into the third, he came in on a Michigan penalty kill and created a valuable clearing opportunity by racing to a loose puck and beating the Penn State player bearing down on him.
A couple minutes later in a 4-on-4 situation, junior forward Dylan Duke — Tyler’s brother — similarly boxed out his man to collect the puck off the faceoff. And the fact that Dylan was in the lineup at all after suffering a hard hit to the head on Friday showed that toughness runs in the family. Both brothers notched an assist and contributed countless hard minutes fighting for their team.
“The Dukers are mean, they’re monsters,” sophomore forward T.J. Hughes said. “They fight through everything and they’re super tough. It shows a lot about their character, and they’re huge team guys, so it’s just great to see.”
The Dukes’ toughness throughout the game exemplified the Wolverines’ performance in the third period. Michigan’s energy and grit were noticeably elevated as the Wolverines tried to mount a comeback. But penalties were abundant for both teams in the third period as tensions rose, and Michigan’s chemistry and rhythm suffered as a result. Although the Wolverines created chances, they couldn’t create goals despite the shift in demeanor.
“We were playing desperate in the third, and that’s how we need to play every period to win in the Big 10, win in college,” Hughes said. “We gotta just have that mentality that we’re always down and just play with high pace and energy.”
Even when he was knocked down, Tyler Duke’s mentality was to battle until the very end, and his teammates followed suit. With an injury-laden roster, Michigan will need to rely on its toughness and perseverance — both of which Tyler demonstrated with his determination to fight through his pain for his teammates in the loss.