ST. PAUL – Michigan played for more than 122 total minutes, but its games were decided in two quick seconds.
In both of the Wolverines’ contests at the Ice Breaker Invitational, the score was settled by one pivotal play at the end – one a goal, the other a penalty – that showcased the scrappy spirit of this year’s Wolverines.
Friday’s game against Boston College ended two and a half minutes into an overtime forced by two third-period Eagle goals. Boston College goaltender John Muse sprawled on the ice in an attempt to trap the puck after a Michigan shot, and most of the Eagles thought the play was over – some circled away from the goal in preparation for the next play.
But no whistle was blown. The puck floated to Muse’s left side, and Michigan forward Louie Caparusso jabbed at the puck as Boston College forward Andrew Orpik attempted to clear it out of the zone. It seemed to ricochet off of Orpik’s left skate and past a still-splayed-out Muse for the Wolverines’ winning goal.
There was a second of confused silence. Boston College players sunk to the ice in disbelief as Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer sprinted to Caparusso, tackling him headlong into the boards in celebration. The Wolverines piled on top of each other and celebrated the finish.
In some ways, the chance goal was fitting. It matched the pace of the game – gritty and rough.
Michigan coach Red Berenson agreed with the assessment of the goal, adding that overtime goals are “always ugly.”
“I think you’re lucky when you win in overtime,” Berenson said. “I don’t know if it was a great scoring chance or not, but if you play in their zone, you have a chance of scoring.”
Even those involved had varying accounts of how the game ended.
“The puck was basically just rolling on its pad, and it’s pretty fortunate the ref didn’t blow it then,” Caparusso said. “Basically, I just kept whacking at (the puck), and I got a piece of it and it rolled right in.”
Boston College coach Jerry York had a different take.
“It looked like we cleared it off our own player,” York said. “I don’t think there was a blue player around the puck.”
The Wolverines tried to mirror their third-period comeback the next night by scoring twice, but Minnesota’s two third-period goals meant that Michigan still trailed by one as the game wound down. From the time that Minnesota took its on-ice timeout with five minutes remaining, the Wolverines had the momentum. They outshot the Golden Gophers, 42-22, and had two key scoring opportunities within three minutes.
But with 2:01 remaining, freshman Matt Rust lost his stick in the Wolverines’ zone and, out of necessity, defended with his body. He was called for holding, and the crowd roared.
Goalie Billy Sauer was pulled shortly afterward while the shorthanded Wolverines had the puck in the Minnesota zone, but Michigan couldn’t convert on its few scoring opportunities.
Had Rust not picked up the penalty, the Wolverines would have had the man advantage, the momentum and a legitimate chance to tie the game.
The game’s turning point again highlighted Michigan’s physicality – but, this time, it hurt the Wolverines.
“I hate to say it, but I felt like I lost it for the team,” Rust said. “I definitely have to be a smarter player at the end of the game. I thought it was a weak call, but at the same time, it shouldn’t really make a difference. You shouldn’t have to put yourself in that position.”
Rust didn’t lose the game for Michigan – his two goals meant Michigan still had a chance late against one of the most talented teams in the country. But the Wolverines’ comeback attempt was effectively over with two minutes remaining.
And again, one play decided a close game.