Strauss Mann provides stability against No. 14 Wisconsin
Sometimes in hockey, it’s the things you don’t notice that matter the most.
For the Michigan hockey team on Thursday, it was the 26 saves by junior goaltender Strauss Mann — 26 missed opportunities for Wisconsin to score — that made the difference in a 5-2 win.
“You watch a game, you might not think anything about (Mann),” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said, “But they are key (saves), and they really keep the momentum in our favor or at least give us the opportunity to gain momentum.”
Unlike in the first two games of the season, the Wolverines couldn’t rely on dominant puck possession or an early lead. They couldn’t rely on a standout performance from their freshman class to lead them to an easy win.
From the first puck drop, it was clear the Badgers could take possession of the puck and knew how to get to the slot.
But what the Wolverines could depend on was Mann making the stop whenever they got there. Mann played a pivotal role in Michigan’s win by allowing just two goals on 28 shots, posting a save percentage of .929.
“He makes those saves look easy — there’s battle, there’s a lot of traffic,” Pearson said. “He gives our team some calm. When everything else is going a little crazy in the zone, he just calms your team down.”
Michigan didn’t get on the board until 15 minutes into the second period, a sharp contrast to their series last weekend against Arizona State, in which they scored within the first 10 minutes of play in each game.
Through a quiet first period, Mann allowed a goal but kept Michigan in the mix.
“Even when you do see a goal go in on him, you’re a little surprised,” sophomore forward Johnny Beecher said. “He’s a rock back there for us. When we see one go in — an unlucky bounce like that in the first — we’re confident that we can just keep pushing and keep playing our style of the game because we have him behind us.”
When both teams upped their offensive play in the second frame, Mann was ready. He made 18 saves in the period — more than in the entirety of last weekend’s opening game.
Against Arizona State, the Wolverines were successful keeping the puck in the offensive zone, leaving Mann waiting in the crease for most of the game.
Against a more aggressive opponent in Wisconsin, Mann got his first opportunity this season to show his prowess.
This level of performance is hardly unexpected from Mann. Last season he was named Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and posted a save percentage of .970.
Now, it seems he may have a contender in Wisconsin goalkeeper Robbie Beydoun, a graduate transfer who notched 29 saves against the Wolverines. Halfway through the second period, Beydoun and Mann were tied on the stat sheet with one allowed goal and 14 saves apiece.
But in the second half of the game, their performance differed. Beydoun let up two more goals before the end of the period, giving Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Back on the other side of the ice, Mann, for the most part, stayed the course.
“He’s a phenomenal goaltender,” Pearson said. “It’s probably not a 5-2 game (without Mann).”
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