Sometimes it just takes a little time to get into a rhythm.
It only took the No. 8 Michigan hockey team (9-6 Big Ten, 11-6 overall) 15 minutes to find get back into its groove against No. 7 Wisconsin (11-6, 13-7) on Saturday afternoon, a game it won decisively, 5-1.
On Monday, Michigan coach Mel Pearson seemed apprehensive about his team’s chances against the Badgers coming off a 14-day pause. The pause came just as the Wolverines were hitting their stride and their return would force a matchup against a Wisonsin team hitting its own stride.
And in the first period, it looked like Pearson had reason to worry.
As soon as the puck dropped, the Wolverines were on the defensive. An early hooking penalty sent Michigan on the penalty kill three minutes into the game. While it killed the man advantage with relative ease — no shots on goal in the two minute span — Wisconsin continued to control the puck throughout the first period.
Early in the game, the Badgers were stationed in front of the Wolverines’ net, and Michigan had little response. Ten minutes into the period, Wisconsin had eight shots to the Wolverines’ one. Eventually, the Badgers snuck the puck passed freshman goaltender Erik Portillo with a well-placed shot over his left shoulder.
Still, Michigan looked sluggish and wasn’t able to get another shot on goal till much later in the period. The Wolverines’ lack of energy — likely a by-product of their pause — was palpable, juxtaposed with the sound of cheering fans playing through the empty arena.
With five minutes left in the period, it looked like the Wolverines were starting to shake off the dust. Players from up and down the roster fired off shots in rapid succession, five in total. However, none were able to get past the Badgers’ goaltender, Robbie Beydoun, and Michigan entered the first intermission scoreless.
The momentum carried over into the start of the second period. Three minutes in, Michigan found its equalizer with a goal from freshman forward Brendan Brisson, his sixth of the season. Freshman forward Matty Beniers followed it up in short order with a shot from just outside of the crease, giving the Wolverines their first lead of the game.
With 12 minutes left in the period, sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini scored off a deflection, bringing the Wolverines’s lead to two.
Wisconsin continued to find offensive chances throughout the period but Portillo made the save again. Portillo has a very different style of play from the Wolverines’ typical starting goaltender, junior Strauss Mann. While Mann plays deep in crease, Portillo is much more likely to get behind the net, helping Michigan clear more than a couple pucks over the course of the game.
His saves proved critical as the Badgers kept outshooting the Wolverines throughout the second period.
But Michigan kept getting the opportunities that counted. When senior forward Luke Morgan fired off a shot from the left circle, the sound of the shot hitting the left goalpost echoed through the arena, tolling the doom of Wisconsin’s chances at a comeback.
Michigan outscored the Badgers in the third period — the only period they were able to do so. While they had many good opportunities like a close breakaway shot from sophomore forward Johnny Beecher late in the game, the Wolverines didn’t extend their lead until the last five minutes.
What was likely intended to be a pass turned into a goal when sophomore forward Nick Granowicz fell onto the puck which ricocheted into the net.
Just after, Wisconsin picked up a slashing penalty — its first and only of the game — to give the Wolverines a power play. Michigan set up it’s formation in front of the goal and while it had a couple dangerous shots, the Wolverines weren’t able to convert on the opportunity.
The game marked their third win against the Badgers this season after Michigan swept in Madison earlier this season. Recently though, Wisconsin has been on a tear through the Big Ten. Coming into this series, the Badgers had picked up seven of their last eight contests, making Michigan’s win all the more dominant a statement:
Michigan hockey is back.