It’s easy to get lost in the No. 5 Michigan hockey team’s success. Individual struggles for many of its other players are cloaked by the overwhelming success of its top scorers.
But en route to ending the Spartans’ season in a game filled with fireworks, the Wolverines’ depth finally exorcized long-standing scoring demons.
Michigan (27-9-1 overall, 16-8 Big Ten) trounced Michigan State (12-23-1, 6-18), scoring four goals on the first five shots and winning 8-0 on the back of its depth.
“(It’s) extremely important,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It makes us a much more dangerous team when we have guys chipping in offensively.”
And against the Spartans, chipping in looked easy. The Wolverines knew they would probably walk out with a win after beating them in five previous matchups, but all eight goals came with ease. More than anything, Michigan got a tuneup game before what it hopes is a deep postseason run.
And from the first puck drop, the Wolverines maximized it.
Sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau scored his first goal in five games 54 seconds in, dashing past defenseman Christian Krygier at the blue line and scoring with ease. Then three minutes later, fifth-year senior Mike Pastujov caught Michigan State flat-footed yet again, dangling through the defense for his first goal in nine games.
But those slumps paled in comparison to one slump that was snapped: junior Johnny Beecher’s goalless streak. He scored his first goal in 13 games — and his first non-empty netter since Veteran’s Day — to open the second period scoring. As he skated to the bench in celebration, he snapped his stick over his knee as if he was directly expelling his struggles. He also added another goal on the power play later in the period.
“I was talking to Matty Beniers a little bit in practice the other day and he was just like ‘Yeah, if you end up potting one here soon, you gotta do something crazy like snap your stick over your knee,’ ” Beecher said. “So that one was for him a little bit and I’m sure it gave the boys a good laugh.”
And while the Wolverines chuckled on the bench, the game was no laughing matter for the Spartans. They made Michigan pay along the boards, finishing checks and engaging in scrums in the hopes of resuscitating their season’s hopes.
But the time for comebacks was long gone. The Wolverines’ depth took over so dominantly that sophomore forwards Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson — its top two scorers — didn’t register a point on all eight goals.
That’s not to say that the Wolverines’ usual scorers didn’t need Saturday’s win to polish their game. For the first time since before he left for the Olympics, sophomore Kent Johnson scored by stealing a stopped puck from goaltender Pierce Charleson behind the net. While Johnson has facilitated countless goals for his linemates, rekindling his own scoring touch makes opponents think twice when he has the puck.
Breaking long slumps with so much gusto matters for the Wolverines in the postseason. Their top line has generated most of the looks, but scorers like Pastujov and Beecher can be much-needed X-factors deep in the lineup if Michigan wants to make a postseason run.
“They’ve been such rocks for us throughout the whole season,” Bordeleau said. “And just seeing them score and seeing them kind of get the monkey off their backs, it was nice.”
And after obliterating their slumps, the Wolverines are one step closer to seeing those players score deeper into the postseason.