By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 5, 2013
In an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson gave the starting nod to the trio of former NTDP players that helped upset the Wolverines last season with a combined five points.
Freshmen forwards Evan Allen, JT Compher and Tyler Motte comprise that standout trio, and Allen and Motte recorded three total points in the first period. But after a third-period collapse, Michigan fell 5-4 in overtime Thursday at Yost Ice Arena.
The NTDP scored the first goal of the game thanks to an odd-man rush that left forward Jack Eichel open in the slot, where he buried a shot past freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.
There wasn’t much Nagelvoort could do on Eichel’s shot, though he stood strong between the pipes the rest of the evening, making 22 total saves on 24 shots before being replaced by redshirt junior goaltender Luke Dwyer with less than three minutes to play.
The captains had talked to Berenson earlier this week about getting Dwyer, who had never seen the ice before for Michigan, in the game if the team had a late lead. All went according to plan, except earning the victory. The Wolverines gave up two goals in the final minute, and a third straight Michigan collapse late in the third period finally came back to bite the Wolverines.
“Dwyer earned that opportunity," said junior forward Alex Guptill. “He’s been our hardest worker here for the last two years, and he has nothing to show for it. I have a sick feeling in my stomach for us to blow that lead for him.”
The late tallies came from forward Shane Gersich at the right circle with 52 seconds to play and Ryan Hitchcock with 23 seconds left on a wrap-around to bring new life to the NTDP.
“For the most part, we were having a good game,” Berenson said. “It was tough the way things went in the last three minutes, but up until then, I thought we were having a pretty good game.”
Both goals came from defensive miscues, and not specifically because of Dwyer’s lack of game experience. Gersich was wide open when he netted his goal, and the game-tying score happened as a NTDP player was pushed into Dwyer in the closing moments.
And with all the momentum, the NTDP tallied the game-winner with 2:17 to play in overtime. Forward Alex Tuch was left unmarked from the point, and he ripped a shot that beat Dwyer on his glove side. Just like that, in four minutes and 35 seconds, the NTDP had flipped the switch to complete the upset over Michigan for the second season in a row.
After the game, sophomore forward Andrew Copp’s chin was glued to his hand, his face red and his eyes focused on one spot downward. He hardly looked up at all, even to answer questions.
“Anytime you blow a two-goal lead like that it’s kind of sickening,” Copp said.
The word “devastating” was used by Motte this week in practice to describe what a loss would feel like to the NTDP. No one knew it’d feel like this, though.
The Wolverines led comfortably before the collapse. Allen netted two goals in the initial frame less than three minutes apart. The first came off of a pass across the crease from Guptill, which Allen sniped into the top corner. Allen’s second tally came much easier when NTDP goaltender Collin Olson got caught out of position. Motte slid a pass to the right circle, and Allen scored on an open net.
Midway through the second period, the teams exchanged goals in just 32 seconds.
Dylan Pavelek netted the NTDP’s second of the game on an offensive breakout after junior defenseman Brennan Serville broke his stick trying to keep the puck in the NTDP’s zone.
Moments later, freshman defenseman Michael Downing fired a shot from the point that found its way past Olson to re-establish the Wolverines’ one-goal lead.
Freshman forward Alex Kile tallied an insurance goal when Guptill slid the puck across the crease for his second helper of the game at 13:20 of the second period. Kile made a soccer-like move to bring the puck down to the ice with his skate before slipping the loose puck into the net.
The exhibition served as an opportunity for Berenson to experiment with some lines. In doing so, he gave upperclassmen like senior captain Mac Bennett and junior forward Derek DeBlois the night off.
Despite the unfamiliar lineup, Michigan seemed to click offensively for much of the night, coasting behind four goals from freshmen. However, the third straight, late-game collapse — dating back to last weekend’s sweep over Ohio State — proved to be too costly this time.
“For this to keep happening is unacceptable,” Copp said. “There’s no excuse for us to be blowing leads like this. We’re supposed to be a defensively sound team, and it cannot just keep happening. We just need to be able to bear down and finish games.”
Guptill and Copp weren’t the only ones feeling the ill effects of a heartbreaking loss. Allen, Compher and Motte are the ones who now understand how they left the Wolverines feeling last season. It doesn’t even matter that it was an exhibition, because pride was still on the line.
Copp’s body language screamed as much.