ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss at Michigan effectively served as a microcosm of the Gophers hockey team’s season to date.
Stretches of dominating brilliance were followed by moments plagued by turnovers and mental mistakes. A nearly perfect first period in a hostile road environment bled into an uneven second period. The Gophers’ NCAA-leading power play almost salvaged a win, but late defensive breakdowns and lost puck battles along the wall allowed it to slip away.
When a shot by Michigan defenseman Cutler Martin got past goaltender Adam Wilcox for the winning goal with 2:16 left in overtime, a game that could have been a springboard into the second half of the season ultimately answered some — but not all — of the Gophers’ questions.
“We did a lot of good things tonight,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “We had some better scoring opportunities, but we made a couple mistakes that ultimately cost us the game.”
Martin’s game-winner resulted from a Wolverines forward outmuscling an opposing skater for a loose puck, keeping the Gophers (10-6-1, 1-1-1-0 Big Ten) hemmed in their own end for nearly a minute. That sequence hearkened back to the play that allowed Michigan (11-7-0, 3-1-0-0) to tie the score at 3-3 with 6:31 left in regulation, when forward Justin Selman fought off a Gophers backchecker to tip-in the feed from teammate Zach Hyman.
“Strength on stick,” Lucia said. “You’re right there and you’ve got the stick. They wanted the goal in that situation more than we wanted to defend it. That’s what it comes down to.”
Selman’s goal, his first of the season, closed out a stretch of nearly six minutes in the third period during which each team scored twice. The Wolverines’ Dylan Larkin started the run when he finished off an odd-man rush during a power play with a goal with 12:12 left in regulation.
The Gophers bounced back, however, scoring a pair of power-play goals after the Wolverines’ Andrew Copp got a major penalty for checking from behind. Forward Justin Kloos evened the score at 2-all on a sharp-angle goal off the rebound of Michael Brodzinski’s shot with 10:06 left in the third period. Forward Travis Boyd gave the Gophers a 3-2 edge 31 seconds later, beating Racine off a one-time feed from Mike Reilly.
“The last couple weeks we’ve been talking about getting to the dirty areas,” Boyd said. “You’re not going to score three, four pretty goals a night.”
The Gophers controlled the first period, outshooting the Wolverines 16-7 and taking a 1-0 lead when Connor Reilly scored at seven minutes. Stationed just to Racine’s right, Reilly easily tapped the carom from a shot by defenseman Ryan Collins into the open net for his team-leading ninth goal of the season.
“One of our keys to the game was to have a quick 10 minutes and the first period we had a ton of shots,” Gophers defenseman Ben Marshall said.
Minnesota’s first-period dominance didn’t carry over into the second. The Wolverines outshot the Gophers 12-7 and scoring the period’s lone goal when Michigan forward Zach Hyman sneaked behind Brodzinski to take a pass from Martin. Brodzinski spun and caught Hyman, but not before his backhand attempt dribbled through the legs of Wilcox.
“The second period we had a lot of pressure, but we didn’t hit the net,” Lucia said. “We attempted 28 shots and only hit the net seven times. When you miss the net or get them blocked, you can’t sustain pressure or get rebound opportunities.”
The Gophers have another opportunity to put together a complete 60-minute effort against the Wolverines on Saturday in the series finale.
“At times, I thought we dominated the game,” Boyd said “We found a way to come back when we were down. There are some things to be happy about, but with the loss, we’ve got to look at the game as a whole.”