Robert Morris blanks Michigan in series finale, 4-0
It has been the same old story for the Michigan hockey team. Not the one where it scores five goals a game, but the one where it has multiple defensive breakdowns.
And unlike previous games, the offense couldn’t bail out its sloppy defensive play.
Saturday, in their series finale against Robert Morris, the 10th-ranked Wolverines fell to Robert Morris, 4-0. Most of the Colonials’ chances stemmed from defensive breakdowns that led to multiple odd-man rushes and grade-A scoring chances.
“You have to be just as hungry coming into this game as we were the game last night, or you’re going to get this kind of result,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “You got to come out hungry and desperate every night, and anything short of that isn’t good enough. The game is all defense and goalkeeping, and if you’re solid there, it’s going to be a close game.”
Three minutes into the game, Michigan failed to clear the puck from the zone, which led to an odd-man rush for the Colonials (3-1-2). Robert Morris forward Brandon Denham corralled a rebound from junior netminder Zach Nagelvoort, who made the initial save, and beat the goalie via the five hole.
And just like the Colonials’ first goal, an odd-man rush led to another glorious opportunity, and forward Daniel Leavens took full advantage. Leavens received the puck in the slot and sniped one over Nagelvoort’s glove.
Robert Morris maintained all the momentum throughout the first period. With 57 seconds left, the Colonials won a faceoff in Michigan’s zone, distributed the puck well and defenseman Tyson Wilson skated through the slot and backhanded one past Nagelvoort. The Wolverines had multiple opportunities to clear the puck.
“You have to say the game was decided in the first period,” Berenson said. “I told my team this morning that there would be one team that would come out hungrier than the other. In these afternoon games, that’s how it works. We thought we’d be that team, but we weren’t.”
The three first-period goals were all Berenson needed to see before making a goalie change. Berenson opted for senior Steve Racine to finish the game. So for now, the revolving door that is the Wolverines’ goaltending situation will remain spinning.
Racine looked better Saturday, stopping 24 shots and allowing only one goal. It’s a vast improvement for the senior who allowed nine total goals in his first two starts.
“We put Nagelvoort in after he came off of his best game,” Berenson said. “We all thought he would just continue that. He’s in a groove, had confidence, was into it and then you saw tonight.
“The goalies all look at the goals and say, ‘Is that something I should save?’ And I think he would tell you honestly, ‘that’s on me.’ When you give them a goal that you can save 95 percent of the time, that just kills your team. This is Division I hockey; this isn’t Bantam hockey.”
Robert Morris’ fourth goal came on yet another defensive mistake. The Wolverines failed to clear the puck from the crease multiple times, which led to forward Zac Lynch putting one past Racine.
Michigan (4-1-1) had multiple grade-A chances in the first period, including one by sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski, whose hard shot from the blue line found its way through to the net and rolled through the crease before it was cleared.
Werenski nearly scored again in the third period when, on a power play, he fired one at Robert Morris netminder Dalton Izyk, who made a sprawling pad save.
Izyk had a blemish-free afternoon, stopping all 34 shots he faced. It was the first time Michigan had been shut out since Feb. 14 when it played at Minnesota.
A win over the Colonials on Saturday would’ve given the Wolverines their best start since the 2000-01 season. Instead, the Wolverines were left with their first loss of the season from a game that Berenson said had “no positives.”
So for now, Michigan will have to worry about fixing their sloppy defensive play or outcomes like Saturdays could become a commonality.