After beating Penn State on Thursday, the Michigan hockey team went to New York City looking to build off momentum. It did the exact opposite, losing 5-2.
Here are the takeaways.
Strauss Mann is still a viable option
After five goals through two periods, junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne was pulled in favor of Strauss Mann. The freshman, with 13 games under his belt, was put in the game for a change of pace. Up until that point, every breakaway, odd man rush or defensive breakdown for the Wolverines resulted in a dangerous scoring opportunity for the Nittany Lions — which more often than not resulted in a score.
While the circumstances weren’t pretty, Mann took his chance and showcased a good argument for why he is still a viable option.
In his start in net Jan. 8 against Merrimack — his last appearance before Saturday — Mann allowed three goals on a .889 save percentage, and Lavigne was subsequently chosen to start the following back-to-back games against Ohio State.
However, when given the opportunity against Penn State, Mann recorded 19 saves, prevent any further Nittany Lion goals and gave Michigan a chance to come back. His performance included stops on breakaways, one-on-none looks and defensive-zone turnovers.
“We really like him as a goaltender, and we think he has a bright future at Michigan,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I didn’t want to have to get him in like we did but he went in and I give him credit, that’s a tough situation to go in and he played extremely well. He gave us an opportunity to try and get back into the game.”
The Wolverines committed a plethora of errors Saturday, but one especially prevalent reason for the defensive meltdown was mentality.
After hitting the post four times, unable to convert any chances in the first period, frustration mounted. As Pearson noted, the team outplayed Penn State in the initial period yet found itself in a three-goal deficit.
“I think we got a little frustrated with that,” said redshirt sophomore Luke Morgan on the team’s inability to break open scoring in the first frame. “When that happens, it led to mental mistakes and some of it we can work on, but sometimes it’s just the way the game goes.”
The team made a mental adjustment to play differently due to its circumstances. As Pearson put it, the Wolverines didn’t play their game. And it was initiated by the new aggression they played with after conceding the first goal to Penn State.
Michigan became desperate for goals, and it caused the Wolverines to make defensive mistakes.
“Some of that could have been the frustration because the puck wasn’t going in the net and it doesn’t work that way,” Pearson said. “… We did not get the result we wanted. Very frustrating in the locker room because we know we’re a better team. We beat ourselves tonight, plain and simple.”
Defensemen pushing further than they needed to be. Players being less than careful with the puck. Allowing breakaways due to poor positioning. These on-ice mistakes were caused by the mental mistake of being too frustrated. Every player wanted to end the unlucky streak of bad bounces, and that ended up costing them.
“We didn’t play on the right side of the puck,” Pearson said. “We did not sense danger –– and I don’t want to say our whole team, but a few individuals. We just didn’t sense that urgency or the danger and they made us pay.”
Added Morgan: “Coach said, ‘We can’t outscore our mistakes, we have to play a solid 60 (minutes) the whole way through.’ ”
Pearson doubts decisions
Pearson had his doubts in his decisions. Being a coach is never easy — it requires all sorts of decision-making. Against Notre Dame on Jan. 5, he made it clear just how stressful it can be, jokingly telling people to turn away from a coaching career.
“It’s frustrating –– chances at the open net, our defenseman ices the puck when we had an opportunity to make a play,” Pearson said about his feelings in the last stretch of the Notre Dame outdoor game. “And they score on the faceoff. … It’s a rush, and there’s nothing like it when you’re playing sports at a high-intensity level.”
That stress came despite a win.
Throughout the season, he had expressed his concerns as a coach. After extended breaks or holidays, he might mention in passing about worries on players’ focus or preparedness.
On Saturday, he made it clear his concerns on his decisions leading to the New York experience.
“I second guess myself as a coach all the time,” Pearson said. “You’re always worried. We didn’t get to skate on Friday. Should we have practice on Friday? We skated this morning, did that have anything to do with it? We gave them a lot of free time yesterday in New York, did they go around and do their thing? Did that throw some guys off?”
Coaches have their fair share of worries, but these worries have weight.