Exactly three weeks ago, senior Michigan netminder Steve Racine was playing the best hockey of his life — and he knew it.
“It’s my last year,” Racine said after a weekday practice. “All the seniors will say that they want to go out on the right foot. Just focusing every day and enjoying it seems to be working well.”
But this weekend’s home-and-home series against Ohio State put that dream of a ride into the sunset on ice.
Friday night, the Wolverines were leading 2-0, looking to cruise past their inferior competition. But the Buckeyes tallied six unanswered goals and left Yost with a 6-2 victory. After stopping just 14 of 19 shots he faced, Michigan coach Red Berenson pulled Racine for the first time all season.
Racine got the starting nod again for Sunday’s contest, but the jitters were still there. In his disappointing games, the senior tends to sink back into his net and look unsure with his glove.
After giving up three unanswered goals in the first 20 minutes, Racine’s second period was one of his worst stretches on the year. He looked downright uncomfortable in net — fanning at the fourth goal as it fluttered in the air while every shot on goal seemed to be a threat to go in.
But Michigan stuck with him and it nearly paid off.
“I thought it was a chance for him to bounce back and for our team to bounce back,” Berenson said. “I can’t tell you he didn’t. They had two breakaways in the first period and three two-on-ones — too many odd-man rushes. He probably kept us in the game.
“He’s been our starting goalie. Whether or not we make that change, its hard to say, but right now he’s giving us a chance.”
A rally in the final minute of the second period pulled the Wolverines to within two, and Racine stood on his head as Michigan battled to tie the game. At the end of regulation, the senior had three point-blank stops that nearly saved the game singlehandedly.
But it was heartbreak in the end.
In the overtime period, Racine stopped an initial attempt as sophomore defender Zach Werenski chased down Buckeye forward Nick Schilkey. He batted away another on the follow-up, leaving a puck dangling by the top of the circle with three Wolverines on the ice behind the net.
“The next thing I know,” Schilkey said, “I’m coming around the net and I see the goalie (Racine) coming out after it. It was a foot race and I think, ‘I got him.’ ”
Schilkey picked Racine’s pocket and blasted a puck between the flailing bodies of Werenski and junior forward JT Compher. Racine was sprawled on his stomach in the slot.
After clawing all the way back, Michigan was 0-2 on the weekend.
“It is tough,” said freshman forward Cooper Marody. “I mean that’s hockey. He’s been playing great for us all year. People might criticize him for some goals he let up, but, hey, the kid’s been battling for us all year.”
It was easy to believe that Racine could ride out the season as a new player and maybe even a hero — but feel-good endings don’t come easy in college hockey.
After dropping three of their last four, the Wolverines are in serious trouble, and they need their golden goaltender back. Any illusions of an easy finish for Racine are dashed, but he is the starting goaltender, and there’s still a chance to keep that dream of riding off into the sunset alive.