In a pivotal late-season matchup, the No. 2 Michigan hockey team (24-7-1, 15-6-0 Big Ten) was presented with one of its most challenging games of the year.

It took 60 minutes of emotional, physical hockey to squeak past No. 11 Ohio State (21-10-2, 13-8-2), 5-3 on Friday night.

“Crowds have been outstanding,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They make a difference. I thought the roof was gonna blow off.”

The first period delivered few surprises. Both teams came out with intense energy and played at a lightning-fast pace. Through the first several minutes, there were hardly any clock stoppages as the Wolverines maintained possession due to a furious forecheck. The Buckeyes had little success exiting their zone and could hardly threaten sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo. But, with 20 seconds until intermission, Ohio State broke the scoreless tie. Forward Quinn Preston collected the puck on Portillo’s blocker side, zoomed behind the net with a backhanded wraparound and forward Kamil Sadlocha buried the loose puck.

Despite trailing by one, Michigan’s spirit was far from broken. 

It opened the period with the same fire and was soon rewarded for its efforts. Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau collected the puck near the left circle, made a nifty move toward the net and buried one near side. 

“I mean, it’s just about staying right here,” freshman forward Mark Estapa said. “Not getting too high or too low. Just being calm like that.”

With the game now level, it was time for Michigan to capitalize on its momentum. Less than two minutes later, freshman defenseman Luke Hughes built on to his historic rookie campaign. His go-ahead goal electrified the crowd at Yost Ice Arena and broke the Wolverines’ record for goals by a freshman defenseman. His 14th tally further demonstrated his offensive skillset and explosive shot. 

Despite gaining the lead, Michigan had no desire to take its foot off the gas. Right after the Buckeyes killed a penalty, they were charged for too many men on the ice.

This time around, the Wolverine power play unit didn’t waste the man-up opportunity.

Junior forward Johnny Beecher took the draw and won it back to freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards at the left point. Edwards lost his balance and appeared to inevitably let up a breakaway the other way. But the New Jersey Devils draftee somehow held onto the puck and played it ahead to fifth-year senior forward Michael Pastujov. Pastujov found freshman forward Dylan Duke on the backside for the easy one-timer finish.

Now up 3-1, Michigan looked like it finally had pulled away from Ohio State. Then, that two-goal margin proved itself to be the most untrustworthy lead in hockey. 

The Buckeyes immediately answered with a two-on-one goal of their own.

Entering the third period, Ohio State stayed hungry. When Hughes was called for roughing, the Buckeyes quickly went to work, and forward Travis Treloar’s blue line shot maneuvered its way past Portillo.

As the game wore on, the intensity built. Each team exchanged big open-ice hits and extra-curricular activities after the whistle. It had all the makings of a primetime Big Ten tilt. 

“It was just preaching this whole week, knowing that it was going to be an emotional game,” senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg said. “Just trying to keep cool and I thought the guys did a great job at that.”

Gifted with yet another power play, Michigan had a chance to regain the lead with under seven minutes to go. Estapa found Blankenburg on the backside and his initial shot wouldn’t go, but the ensuing rebound reached the twine.

He took a celebratory lap around the net and down the sidewall, pumping his fist to the cheers of the Yost faithful.

It was a moment that will be forever etched in Blankenburg’s memory.

“I’ll have chills for the rest of my life that last two minutes,” Blankenburg said. “And how about that crowd. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it this loud before.”

Now, the Wolverines will have to refocus and reenergize for the potential sweep tomorrow night — three points that would go a long way in their quest for a regular season championship.