Michigan goaltender Steve Racine played impeccably for the first 55 minutes of the Michigan hockey team’s series-opening tussle with Notre Dame on Thursday night.
But he couldn’t recover in time to prevent a wraparound Fighting Irish goal with five minutes to go in the game, and Michigan dropped game one of the series, 3-1, at Yost Ice Arena.
“I thought (Racine) played really well,” said senior captain A.J. Treais. “I thought he played one of his best games at Michigan. … It’s too bad we couldn’t help him out.”
Michigan set the tempo early in the first period, creating a couple of grade-A scoring opportunities. Just over three minutes into the game, freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba narrowly missed giving the Wolverines a 1-0 lead when he clanged a wrister off the post from the bottom of the left circle.
Ninety seconds later, though, another freshman connected for Michigan. Justin Selman, forechecking hard in the Notre Dame zone with fellow freshman Andrew Copp, intercepted an ill-advised Fighting Irish pass. Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays, who had allowed just 1.64 goals per game this season entering the game, guessed wrong and Selman found an upper corner to give the Wolverines the lead.
“I thought we forechecked better,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We got pucks behind their (defense). We had our legs and we had more confidence. As the game wore on, we wore more on our heels.”
Racine played a terrific period, turning away every shot he faced, even when the defense was caught out of position, an alarming trend that has been amplified recently.
Though Selman missed a couple of rebound opportunities for a second goal of the night, the period ended with the Wolverines ahead 1-0 after outplaying the Fighting Irish for the full 20 minutes.
Early in the second period, though, a dreadful Michigan power play allowed Notre Dame to even the score.
After Austin Wuthrich went to the box for tripping Racine, the Wolverines began a two-minute man advantage that turned out to be their worst span of the period. The power play saw only one shot reach the net, and the tides turned when T.J. Tynan sent a pass up ice to Mike Voran, who netted a shorthanded goal for the Irish to knot the game at one.
“I think that shorthanded goal in the second period really turned the game in the other direction,” Berenson said. “When you get your power-play guys out there and they get scored on, that’s a huge goal for a road team and they took advantage of it.”
Three minutes later, at the 8:20 mark of the second period, Michigan was awarded another power play, which was almost as disappointing. Again, only one shot reached Summerhays, and the Fighting Irish had a couple near misses of their own, despite being a man short.
Michigan began the decisive third period on a 4-on-3 disadvantage, which was promptly killed off — one of the lone special-teams bright spots for the Wolverines all night.
With 15:10 to play in the game, Treais, the NCAA goals leader, had a breakaway on Summerhays, but his shot was high of the net. Minutes later, sophomore forward Alex Guptill ricocheted a shot off the crossbar.
Michigan would get no more quality chances in game.
The game-winning goal finally came for the Fighting Irish with just over five minutes to play as Racine, way out of position, couldn’t catch up to Notre Dame’s Bryan Rust — brother of former Michigan player Matt Rust — on a wraparound. Berenson described the tally as coming off of “sloppy” play in the Wolverines’ own end.
“Your goalie keeps you in the game and is playing really well, and then the wraparound goal is a tough goal,” Berenson said.
An own goal off the skate of sophomore defenseman Mike Chiasson sealed the 3-1 win for Notre Dame.
Despite surrendering the eventual game-winner late, Racine bailed out the defense several times Thursday, saving 30 of 33 shots faced.
Michigan and Notre Dame conclude their two-game set Friday night at Yost with a 7:35 p.m. puck drop.
“Every game is a must win now,” Berenson said of his team, which dipped below .500 for the first time since Dec. 2 of last year. “These are huge home games for us.”