BOSTON — After 60 minutes of pure intensity, passion and high-level hockey, the Frozen Four semifinal between the Michigan hockey team and Denver required an extra frame to determine a winner.
It’s something every kid dreams about growing up: scoring the winning goal in an overtime, playoff hockey game. It’s the ultimate opportunity to have your teammates mob you and your fans celebrate you. Someone was going to be a hero and a dream would be fulfilled.
But it was the Pioneers — not the Wolverines — who cashed in on their dreams.
Going into overtime, Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s message to his team was simple:
“Get the lead,” Pearson said. “Message was just to keep playing our game and get everything to the net. There’s no bad shot in overtime.”
And Pearson’s words got through. Entering the most important period of the season, the Wolverines looked like a new team coming out of the locker room. They hadn’t played with their usual swagger — a testament to Denver’s stout defense — but it was only a matter of time before they showed up.
“I thought the first five minutes (of overtime)… we were the better team,” Pearson said. “We just couldn’t get pucks through them or to the net or get a bounce.”
Overtime carried a particular nervousness; after every shot, the arena held its collective breath. After every collision, the benches vied for a penalty call in their favor.
It didn’t always seem like Michigan would reach this point; for much of the game it played from behind. But after controlling most of overtime, it finally appeared that the Wolverines had cracked the code. Nine minutes into sudden death, sophomore forward Brendan Brisson nearly tallied another clutch, game-winning goal.
It’s something he’d done time and time again this season, but as was the case for Michigan Thursday night, the puck just didn’t go its way. Brisson’s redirection shot sliced by goaltender Magnus Chrona and past the net.
Brisson wasn’t the only one who almost cemented his legacy forever.
Four minutes later, freshman defenseman Luke Hughes ignited Michigan’s most dangerous scoring threat. As he’s done so often this season, he took control of the puck in the defensive zone and turned on the jets.
With sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau streaking down the right boards and one Pioneer defenseman back, the Wolverines needed only to convert an odd-man rush to advance to the National Championship.
But Hughes deferred to Bordeleau and kept the puck for himself. His shot went straight into Chrona’s chest — Denver was still alive.
Just one minute later, the Pioneers forced sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott into an awkward situation and caused a defensive zone turnover. Forward Bobby Brink found forward Carter Savoie in front of the net and his rebound try got past sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo.
As Denver euphorically raced toward the boards in celebration of its victory, the Michigan skaters glided back to their bench, hanging around each other on the ice for one last time.
For senior defenseman and captain Nick Blankenburg, he was able to embrace those final moments donning the maize and blue jersey.
“I think anytime being a Michigan kid and having a chance to wear the letter at the University of Michigan is something special,” Blankenburg said. “God has blessed me in so many different ways over my hockey career.”
It wasn’t the ending the Wolverines had hoped for and their yearlong overtime woes continued. As Denver heads to the National Championship on Saturday night, Michigan will go into the offseason earlier than anticipated.
“We were in the game,” Pearson said. “We hadn’t played our best. I thought as the game wore on we got better and better and better.”
For the ensuing months — and probably years — the Wolverines will be left wondering what could have been if they’d reached the back of the net in overtime before their opponents.
All they know right now is that they didn’t.