Offense can't find chemistry as Wolverines fall to USNTDP, 6-3

Friday, October 12, 2018 - 9:49pm

After 10 minutes of blocked shots and defensive control by the Michigan hockey team (0-1), it took just one pass from Jack Hughes for the U.S. National Team Development Program to take the lead. It was a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, as the Wolverines fell, 6-3, in Saturday’s exhibition matchup.

Halfway through the first period, Hughes — a forward for the USNTDP (6-1) — slipped the puck to defenseman Marshall Warren, who snuck a shot past Michigan junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne. The pro-Jack Hughes crowd erupted, and chants of “We want Jack” rang out from the student section.

Moments later, Hughes notched his second point of the night, as he stood just outside the crease and tapped a pass from forward Trevor Zegras in for the score.

But the Wolverines didn’t let the two-goal deficit stand for long, as sophomore forward Jack Becker capitalized on a loose puck in front of the net. Senior forward Brendan Warren’s shot just missed, and Becker was there to tap in the puck to make the score 2-1 in favor of the USNTDP.  

On an ensuing power play, the Michigan penalty kill unit allowed just one shot — but it was a tough-angled shot for Lavigne to stop, and forward Ryder Rolston fired the puck just over Lavigne’s right shoulder. The USNTDP’s lead was back to two, and the home team’s issues on defense seemed to be returning.

Becker cut into the deficit once more on yet another loose puck in front of the net, this time cleaning up a rebound from sophomore forward Michael Pastujov’s shot.

“It was just a good forecheck, I think, by my linemates and myself,” Becker said. “We handle the puck in the zone, get pucks to the net, and try to get loose in front and make good things happen.”

But just eight seconds into the second period, Zegras fired off a slapshot from the high slot after receiving a pass from Jack Hughes. Once again, the USNTDP’s lead was two goals — though it wouldn’t remain there for long.

Barely more than a minute later, USNTDP defenseman Henry Thrun fired the puck in between Lavigne’s legs to make it a three-goal game and mark the end of Lavigne’s night. He was replaced by freshman goaltender Strauss Mann, who made 17 saves and allowed just one goal in his time on the ice. 

“Any time you come into a game like that, you’re just trying to give your team a chance to win and give it your all,” Mann said. “Usually when you get into those games, the other team’s got a little bit of a lead, but you always know that your team can get back in it if you play well enough. Tonight that wasn’t the case, but that’s always the mindset. Just try and get back in the game.”

Sophomore forward Josh Norris got a quick breakaway chance and found twine, but it wasn’t enough to turn the Wolverines’ fortunes. As they had on nearly every Michigan goal, the USNTDP scored yet again.

The game turned physical from there, as it tends to when the home team is trailing by three goals. The hits got harder and the shoves got more frequent, but increased physicality couldn’t turn the tide of the game while the offense was struggling to light the lamp.

“I think we were frustrated,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Sometimes you want to take a run (at someone). … They’re a big, strong team, they don’t mind playing physical, but they’re a skill team. They want to play fast, and I thought we would be better in that game than we were tonight.”

The Wolverines had scoring chances but also had difficulty finishing them — just as they did in the first two games. Michigan managed to increase its offensive pressure late in the second period, but it couldn’t shrink the three-goal deficit.

“We have to make sure that we start better,” Pearson said. “We can’t keep giving up a couple goals and playing from behind, chasing the game all night like we were tonight.”

And though Mann’s steady presence in relief of Lavigne kept the USNTDP from adding to its lead in the final period, the hole from the first two periods proved too deep for the Wolverines to climb out of.

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