BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Seldom is the momentum of a game decided so early.
But in the Michigan hockey team’s 2-0 loss to Air Force in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the Falcons had the advantage from the very beginning.
After Air Force picked up contact-to-the-head elbowing and cross-checking calls four minutes into the game, Michigan had a two-man advantage for one minute and 19 seconds.
The Wolverines got three Grade-A scoring chances in the slot — a deflection by sophomore Louie Caporusso and two shots by senior Brandon Naurato, one directly in front of the crease. But Air Force goalie Andrew Volkening was more than up for the test on each occasion.
“I think the momentum shift of the game was when we didn’t score on the 5-on-3,” sophomore forward Matt Rust. “If we would have scored there, we would have buried them.”
Michigan failed to score at all. The Wolverines went 0-for-7 with the man advantage against Air Force.
“When you look back at that game, Michigan needed to score on that 5-on-3,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “How many times have you seen in hockey (that) you get a 5-on-3, you don’t score, and you lose? And we weathered the storm, after that our guys were like, ‘OK, we used our mulligan, and now we have to start playing.’ I think we responded pretty well after that.”
The failure to convert on the two-man advantage set the tempo for the rest of the game.
Michigan dominated the early going with seven scoring opportunities in the first eight minutes. The Wolverines also had a near-goal from junior Brian Lebler that was deflected away by the Falcon defense before reaching the goal line.
But after failing to convert on the power play, Air Force had more top-notch scoring chances and scored the two goals that proved to be the difference in the game.
Not enough work: Sophomore goalie Bryan Hogan has said many times this season that he would rather face many shots than just a few.
Stopping more shots gets a goalie into a rhythm, because he’s used to the game speed and isn’t just an observer in the crease.
The numbers back him up. Hogan has just a .899 save percentage in games where he faces fewer than 20 shots. He’s posted a .919 save percentage when facing more than 20 shots in a game.
And while limiting Air Force to just 13 shots on goal can be a testament to the team’s defense, Berenson was less than happy with the pair of goals given up.
“I don’t think it’s a game of blaming anyone,” Berenson said. “I didn’t like the first goal and I didn’t like the second goal. As a goalie, you’re the last line of resort. But as a goalie, you’ve got to make those saves.”
Flukey Four: From a fan’s perspective, Air Force’s win over Michigan was an upset. But the Wolverines weren’t alone in a wacky weekend in the NCAA Tournament. Three No. 1 seeds — Michigan, Notre Dame and Denver — all lost to No. 4 seeds in the tournament’s first round. The teams in this year’s Frozen Four are No. 4 seeds Bemidji State and Miami (Ohio), No. 1 seed Boston University and No. 3 seed Vermont.