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Late collapse nearly dooms Wolverines

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 2, 2013

COLUMBUS — If there was a guide detailing exactly how to lose a hockey game on the road, Michigan followed the script to perfection Monday night at Value City Arena.

The third-ranked Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 10-2-1 overall) committed an early infraction, presenting Ohio State with a prime opportunity to take the lead. They turned the puck over several times in the defensive zone, which forced sophomore netminder Steve Racine — who hadn’t played in more than two weeks — into making deft pad saves. Through the first 14 minutes of the game, Michigan had only one shot to the Buckeyes’ nine.

But with just under six minutes remaining in the first period, forward Boo Nieves fought for the puck behind the Ohio State (0-2, 8-6) goal and won. The sophomore dropped a pass into the slot to junior forward Zach Hyman, who one-timed a shot into the net.

The crowd grew silent, and the cheers from the Wolverines’ bench echoed throughout the cavernous building. It was Hyman’s first goal of the season, and the game turned with it, as Michigan eventually won, 5-4.

“It was good for our team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Their goalie hadn’t seen any action at all. You’re lucky you might have caught him cold. After that, it was a different game.”

When the first period ended, Ohio State held a 12-4 advantage in shots, but Michigan led where it counted most — on the scoreboard — 1-0.

The Wolverines looked to put the game out of reach in the second period. Freshman center JT Compher scored twice on rebounds, showing off his footwork on the first tally by passing the puck across the crease to himself with his skate. Three minutes into the final frame, freshman defenseman Michael Downing’s pinpoint shot from the blue line found twine for a three-goal lead.

But that’s when Michigan fell apart again, making its first period look exemplary in comparison. The Wolverines surrendered three goals in four minutes, and Ohio State pulled even.

Racine entered the game boasting a .931 save percentage, but the defense in front of him was porous in the final minutes. The Buckeyes fired 18 shots in the third period — more than Michigan managed in the first two frames combined.

“We were on our heels,” Berenson said. “I’m not sure if we deserved to win the game.”

The Wolverines did triumph thanks to senior defenseman Mac Bennett, whose gamble paid off when he pinched and scored on a simple tap-in. But the game-winning goal, the series sweep and the perfect start to Big Ten play did little to alleviate the team’s frustration.

“The performance in that third period, me personally, I’m very upset about it,” Bennett said. “And I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in the locker room that aren’t very happy, either.”

Added Compher: “We talked about burying teams at the end. When we have the knife to their throat, putting them away. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Michigan’s tepid start and late collapse let Ohio State dig itself out of a shallow grave, and it very nearly cost the Wolverines. But they twice stopped momentum when it was skewed heavily in the Buckeyes’ favor to escape.

“The best team doesn’t always win,” Berenson said. “We got lucky they didn’t score that winning goal. It’s as simple as that.”

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. Monday, that was exactly what Michigan needed.