Michigan saw its record streak of 22 consecutive NCAA Tournaments come to an end Sunday inside Joe Louis Arena. In a fitting tribute to the program that created it, the streak would not end without one final gasp. But Notre Dame skated, passed, and hounded a tired Michigan team, scoring the decisive goal early in the third period to extend its season and end U-M's in a 3-1 victory.
ND was the better of the two teams to start the game. The Irish skated fluidly, pressured Michigan's defenders into careless mistakes, and created a number of beautiful scoring opportunities. Freshman goaltender Steve Racine was up to the challenge even if his sluggish defense corps was not, stopping a variety of Notre Dame shots from the point, down low, and cross-ice. Racine turned aside all 18 in the first.
He was the best player on the ice for the Wolverines, and head coach Red Berenson valued the effort his netminder gave.
"Right from the get go, they were getting a lot of pucks to the net, bodies to the net, and he was sharp," Berenson said. "I thought he played his best game of the season. Good for him, we needed that. Anytime a team outshoots you like that in the first period, your goalie has to be ready, and he was ready."
Shockingly, Michigan scored first. At the conclusion of a penalty, junior forward Derek DeBlois picked up his 11th tally of the season deep into the first at 19:00. DeBlois initially missed the net, but the carom came to freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba to the side of the crease. Trouba whirled around and blindly threw the puck on net. Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays was out of position, and DeBlois was able to easily tap it into the empty net for the shorty.
A penalty-filled second period where U-M was forced to kill off three Notre Dame power plays appeared to bolster Michigan's confidence. In the midst of killing off a 5-on-4, two penalty killers inexplicably lost their sticks, and freshman center Andrew Copp displayed the type of fortitude that characterized Michigan's run. He dove, swiping at the puck with his glove to clear the zone. But any chance that the penalty-killer's heart would inspire the team's disappointing play did not materialize.
Notre Dame's offensive pressure finally paid off. The Irish tied the game on a broken play at 10:34.
Michigan continued its slow and sloppy defensive zone play throughout the period. The lone bright spot was the fine play of Copp. The freshman generated the best chance the Wolverines had all period, redirecting a Lee Moffie shot on net that just missed finding its way through Summerhays' five-hole.
Shots were 28-10 Notre Dame after two periods.
The pressure finally became too much for Michigan as the third period began. Only 30 seconds in, Austin Wuthrich demoralized the Maize and Blue and gave the Irish the lead with a huge goal. Wuthrich found a loose puck after a scramble in the slot, and fired it past Racine.
Moffie said the team felt the sting of the early goal, but never lost confidence.
"Yeah, it's a little deflating," he said. "You're talking about what you're going to do in the next period in the locker room. To go out and get scored on in the first shift hurt. I still don't think we lost hope. We thought we were going to bounce back in the third period, give them some pushback. I thought we did more in the third period."
That pushback from Michigan never came to fruition. The Wolverines mustered 11 shots in the final period, but never really came close to tying the game. Costello added an empty-net-goal to clinch the Mason Cup for Notre Dame. In an indelible image that defined Michigan's season, Racine made one last dive towards the puck, but it was not to be.