The Michigan hockey team didn’t want to believe that things could any worse this weekend.
After all, they had already lost 3-1 to No. 7 Notre Dame on Friday, when the 12th-ranked Wolverines collapsed under themselves. Though visibly distressed over the loss, at least there was some hope that things could turn around the next night.
But hope doesn’t always translate into results, and the Wolverines fumbled their way to a 4-1 loss, the first time they’d been swept at Yost Ice Arena this season.
“I think our team came out (tonight) with renewed energy,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They felt bad about last night’s game and they wanted to make up for it, and they couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t get the offense going and it was a defensive battle.”
The first period had the making of a picture-perfect stanza, with crisp passes and considerate puck handling in both zones — a far cry from the sloppiness that tore Michigan (2-5-1 CCHA, 4-6-1 overall) apart the night before.
Considering Michigan’s man advantage was abysmal on Friday, it wasn’t necessarily comforting to them when they took the first power play of the night. The Wolverines’ power play united stayed solid throughout the first frame — even if it wasn’t scoring goals, at least it wasn’t giving them up.
But it was the other special-teams unit that faltered first, when Notre Dame (5-1, 8-3) scored a power-play goal with a snipe from the point midway through the frame. The remainder of the period see-sawed with back-and-forth penalties, but neither team converted. Michigan had just four shots on goal, with no real quality looks.
Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba was the one who finally lit up the sluggish offense that was still lethargic throughout the second stanza. With seven minutes left, the defenseman found a loose puck at the top of the circle and rocketed it past Fighting Irish goalie Steven Summerhays’s glove to knot the game at one.
If Michigan was asleep before, Trouba lighting the lamp certainly woke the team up. The Wolverines kept possession of the puck and had more better looks in the last five minutes of that period than they did in the previous night and first frame of Saturday combined — sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe fired a breakaway backhand that bounced off both posts and Summerhays but never crossed the line.
It was almost unfortunate for Michigan, then, that the second period had to end. As they came out for the third period, the momentum that the Wolverines had been carrying seemed lost as Notre Dame began to swarm freshman netminder Steve Racine.
“You like to keep the game going,” Berenson said. “We’re playing well and we’ve got a little bit of momentum and we need to feed off every little bit we can.
“It’s was a close, hard-fought game, and you had to battle for every inch. We did, and they did, and they finally broke us.”
Racine made the big saves he should have, and for a while, the defense held true. Instead of faltering in front of him, both the blue liners and the forwards went out of their way to clear the zone and stop good Fighting Irish looks on net.
The good fortune could only hang on for so long, though. Senior defenseman Lee Moffie mishandled a puck behind the net, passing along the end boards right to a Notre Dame stick, which turned into the go-ahead goal. Just minutes later the Fighting Irish scored again after another defensive mishap gave Notre Dame a loose puck in the slot.
That marked the all-too-familiar third-period collapse for Michigan, a team so desperate that it pulled its goalie with 3:20 left in the game, only to lead to an empty-net goal for the Fighting Irish.
If anything, the weekend only confused the Wolverines more. Whereas in past games it was either a weak defensive corps or a lack of offensive production, this weekend highlighted troubles all over the board. And time is ticking, as Michigan approaches the midpoint of its season.
“I just think we’re struggling to find full-team effort,” said senior forward Kevin Lynch. “Inconsistency is what we’re fighting right now, and you’ve got to find it somewhere.”