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Michigan Hockey Recap: Shorthanded Wolverines drop both games at home against Minnesota

It was the weekend from hell for the Wolverines.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Shortly before the start of the highly anticipated top-five showdown between No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Michigan, it was announced the Wolverines would be without several key players due to illness.

Six Wolverines in total missed the first game: the top-scoring player in college hockey, Adam Fantilli, Michigan’s third-leading scorer TJ Hughes, team captain Nolan Moyle, starting defenseman Jacob Truscott, and defensemen Brendan Miles and Steven Holtz. Holtz’s condition was so severe he was admitted to the ICU and placed on a ventilator, according to his mother on Facebook.

Michigan was so desperate for bodies, third-string reserve goaltender Tyler Shea was listed as the fourth line left wing. It felt like they might start plucking from the Children of Yost to field a team. The decision to play was met with criticism, but the undermanned Michigan Wolverines decided to take the ice anyway.

After two goals by forward Dylan Duke, the Wolverines were tied 2-2 in the middle of the second period when bad luck struck again. Minnesota’s Logan Cooley dangerously cross-checked Wolverine forward Eric Ciccolini into the boards and was assessed a five minute major. Cooley was allowed to return to the game, but was suspended for game two. Ciccolini’s weekend was unfortunately over.

Minnesota would add one more goal during four-on-four play late in the second, but despite playing with limited players and goalie Erik Portillo having his worst outing of the season, the Wolverines only trailed 3-2 after two periods.

Maybe it was a mental lapse, maybe it was for extra rest emotionally and physically, maybe it was to tend to Ciccolini, but Michigan was late to take the ice for the third period and was issued a penalty. Minnesota quickly scored an insurance goal on the power play and took a 4-2 lead.

The Gophers would add one more five minutes later and would go on to win 5-2.

After the game, Michigan interim head coach Brandon Naurato spoke to the media and spoke about how difficult the week had been:

“It’s been an extremely emotional week,” Naurato said. “We didn’t talk about hockey too much this week. It’s been nothing but worrying and thinking about our teammates and their mental health and physical health. We got a great group of kids and guys are still fighting.”

The Wolverines were able to welcome back Moyle and Truscott for game two but because Michigan would be without Ciccolini for the second game, Shea was still tasked with being the fourth line left winger.

In game two, fatigue was starting to accumulate for the Wolverines, especially on the back check. Furthermore, Portillo continued to struggle and let up an early soft goal due to a poor angle.

Halfway through the second period, the Wolverines were down 3-0 despite out-shooting Minnesota. Desperate for a spark, Michigan forward Jackson Hallum continued to attack and his energy provided the team with some much needed life. Unfortunately, Hallum would injure himself on an attempted one-timer and miss the rest of the period.

Feeding off the energy Hallum created, defenseman Seamus Casey drifted around the right circle and found Dylan Duke (who else?) for his third goal of the weekend and cut the Minnesota lead to 3-1.

The Gophers would respond on a delayed penalty to make it 4-1.

To keep up with the trend of bad luck, a review negated Michigan forward Rutger McGroarty scoring on a top shelf snipe as the buzzer sounded at the end of the second.

In the final frame, thankfully, Hallum was able to return. Michigan cut the lead to 4-2, when a rebound careened off the boards to the stick of — WHO ELSE — Dylan Duke for his fourth goal of the weekend.

Again, Minnesota responded on the power play to make it 5-2, and AGAIN, the Wolverines responded when Mackie Samoskevich’s wrister found a home to make it 5-3. Samoskevich became the first player not named Dylan Duke to score for the Wolverines on the weekend.

It was a valiant effort, but Michigan was unable to get any closer. Minnesota added an empty netter and won 6-3.

This weekend was an impossible task for the Wolverines without several key players and chemistry issues from top to bottom with all of the lineup changes. Should they have played? I am not on the team nor in that locker room, and if the boys wanted to give it a go, I support their decision to take the ice.

Portillo struggled, but it’s hard to play sharp when you have barely practiced all week due to a virus outbreak. Moreover, criticizing the team’s performance seems so trivial when players are battling for much more than hockey.

The Wolverines showed incredible heart all weekend and a defiant refusal to quit in game two. Despite being swept, this weekend’s performances were a galvanizing effort that could help this team grow exponentially on and off the ice.