After a month-long layoff, the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (12-7-1) finally returned to action Friday night in an exhibition game against the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP). Propelled by a five-goal third period, a shorthanded Michigan was able to come back and seize victory, 7-6, at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
A 13-goal game did not take long to get the scoring going. Less than three minutes into the first period, the USNTDP got on the board first after a loose puck was backhanded home during a scrum in front of goalie Erik Portillo. The Wolverines and USNTDP stalemated for the majority of the period and with just under five minutes remaining, Michigan broke through with the equalizer.
Michigan’s Jackson Hallum fired a shot on net and a streaking Seamus Casey deflected the puck home to tie the game 1-1. However, two minutes later while on an odd-man rush, the lethal top line of USNTDP put the stars and stripes back ahead, 2-1, before the end of the first period.
Just 3:26 into the second period, Michigan’s Jay Keranan turned the puck over in the neutral zone and the USNTDP had a juicy one-on-one with Portillo. However, the Super Swede was up to the challenge and his quick glove kept the one goal deficit in tact.
A few minutes later at the 6:43 mark, the USNTDP expanded the lead on its second power play opportunity. But less than 20 seconds later, Michigan’s Mackie Samoskevich — who looked like the best player on the ice Friday — responded to bring the Wolverines back within one goal.
With just over five minutes remaining, as expected in an exhibition game, Michigan switched from Portillo to Noah West in net to close things out. After a scoreless final five minutes, Michigan entered the third period trailing 3-2.
To kick the scoring off in an eventual eight-goal third period, Michigan’s Seamus Casey capitalized on a turnover deep in the opposing zone by deking a defender and backhanding home the equalizing goal right at the six-minute mark. It was Casey’s second goal and third point of the evening.
The Wolverines took their first lead of the game a few minutes later when Ethan Edwards left the defender in the dust and rocketed a shot from the point that was deflected home by team captain Nolan Moyle. They struck again less than two minutes later when Kienan Draper fired home a backhander after a beautiful Luca Fantilli apple — 5-3, Wolverines.
However, the boys in red, white and blue were not going quietly into that good night.
The USNTDP answered with less than five minutes remaining to cut the Michigan lead to one. Thankfully, Samoskevich was tired of the comeback attempts.
Samo had a great individual effort as he took the puck outside the left circle, danced around, split two defenders and fired home his signature wrister for his second of the night to extended Michigan’s lead 6-4.
One would think this goal would ice the game, but with just under three minutes remaining, the USNTDP scored AGAIN, and once again cut Michigan’s lead to one. As time winded down, the USNTDP pulled its goalie for an extra attacker and Michigan’s Eric Ciccolini —appearing in his first game since November — found the back of the empty net to extend Michigan’s lead to 7-5.
But AGAIN (!!!) the USNTDP responded to cut the Michigan lead to 7-6 with less than a minute remaining. Furthermore, the USNTDP went on the power play after the goal to close the game. Its best chance came in the final five seconds, but West promptly shut the door.
Despite missing several key players due to World Juniors participation and starting a defenseman — albeit an extremely talented defenseman— at center, Michigan played really well. Once the Wolverines got their sea legs back, they turned up the heat and pulled away from the potent offense of the USNTDP.
Next up, the Ohio State Buckeyes.