Entering Friday’s game against Michigan State, the Wolverines had allowed the second most power plays and the most power play goals of any team in the Big Ten. While Michigan was able to get away with taking a lot of penalties during its 4-0 start, undisciplined hockey began to cost the Wolverines against Penn State and Minnesota — leading to three consecutive losses prior to their extended break.
Much of Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s postgame press conference after a 9-5 loss to the Nittany Lions on Dec. 3 revolved around staying out of the penalty box. The following week, he echoed this sentiment after both of the Wolverines’ losses to the Golden Gophers.
Pearson summed it up best on Dec. 8, following the first of the two losses to Minnesota: “It just took all our momentum away.”
Against Penn State, poorly timed penalties allowed the Nittany Lions to get back into the game and eventually pull away. Against Minnesota, they stifled any chance of a Michigan comeback.
Friday, it looked as though penalties would once again be the story. Just two minutes into the game, a strong start from the Wolverines was stalled by a tripping penalty. Michigan had put itself in a prime position to face an early deficit despite controlling much of the game to that point.
“Right off the get-go we had to kill a penalty, like two minutes into the game,” Pearson said. “I thought ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ ”
But the Wolverines killed that penalty and picked right back up where they left off. A minute later, freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau potted the first goal of the game, and Michigan kept the pressure coming. By the time the Wolverines were shorthanded again, they led by five goals in what would eventually become a 9-0 victory. The Wolverines only allowed two Spartan power plays and killed both.
“We have to play with discipline,” Pearson said. “I thought our guys did a good job. The game got a little physical there, and they kept their cool which was good. And that’s going to be a key going forward.”
Michigan’s discipline on Friday led to a striking difference in play than in its losses to Penn State and Minnesota. Rather than having to kill a penalty and spend time in their defensive zone, the Wolverines responded to their goals with even more offense.
Thirty seconds after Bordeleau’s goal, sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini rang a shot off the post. One minute after sophomore forward Johnny Beecher scored Michigan’s third goal, sophomore forward Nick Granowicz was robbed directly in front of the net by Michigan State goaltender Pierce Charleson. In the third period, the Wolverines scored two goals less than 30 seconds apart.
“It’s definitely something we harp on a lot, and staying disciplined helps us with our momentum and keeping the game flowing,” freshman defenseman Jacob Truscott said. “So to take only a couple penalties today, we still want to shorten that number, but it allowed us to stay with our groove and continue our offensive play and try to keep it out of our D zone.”
Michigan has struggled with penalties so much this season that it would be foolish to assume it has quelled the issue based off of just one game. But Friday’s win showcased just how good the Wolverines can be if this level of discipline becomes the norm.