It’s what radiated from Johnny Beecher after Michigan Tech goaltender Blake Pietila slammed the door on his second breakaway opportunity. Coming up empty twice, the junior forward lost control and slammed his stick against the glass as he skated — even sulked — to the bench. He just couldn’t buy a goal.
Such is the fickle nature of hockey, and Michigan’s ability to withstand those troubles has played in its favor through much of the season. But when players like Beecher lose confidence, the Wolverines’ success stands in jeopardy.
Under a microscope, Michigan’s highly touted skaters don’t always score like top prospects. Minor slumps show up on their stat sheets like blips on a radar. And those problems only compound when they stare at the blinking screen.
Take sophomore forward Matty Beniers’s slow start to the season. Coming off an offseason ankle injury, the usually potent offensive engine puttered along at just five points in the season’s first eight games. And with his production lagging, Beniers got in his own head.
Luckily for Beniers, he could look at a similar struggling star who snapped his own scoring jinx.
“I sent (Beniers) a real good article,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said on Nov. 5. “Mitch Marner from the Maple Leafs hadn’t scored in 18 games going back to last year, the playoffs, (and) this year. (He) just decided to focus on playing and having fun, and I think we saw that with Matty this week.”
Similar to Marner, confidence helped Beniers find his game again. He erupted for nine goals in November, five of which beat goaltenders with save percentages above .928. He looked like the player he was during the highs of his young career.
But those kinds of night-and-day turnarounds take time to manifest. Sometimes, Michigan needs its players to snap out of a funk midgame. In those situations, there’s no time to tell a story.
Lost in the rhythms of the game, players slap each others’ pads, yell to keep pushing, hit things in catharsis — anything that might send someone’s game into a higher gear.
“That’s where we come in as leaders and upperclassmen, just try to calm them down as much as possible,” senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe said. “Every game, your emotions are a roller coaster, and you just try to stay even keel as much as possible.”
Shifts like that have happened all season, but especially when freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards takes the ice. Earlier in the season, Edwards looked lost. Small mistakes in his shifts would throw him off for the rest of the game, and he struggled to find a groove.
Then, Edwards scored his first goal. Like the flip of a switch, he started initiating clean breakouts and playing the puck with ownership. In the wake of those improvements, Edwards became a reliable puck mover on Michigan’s bottom pairing.
The correlation between trust and success extends far past Edwards. In games where the Wolverines’ composure has cracked, the results are disastrous. Capping off the season’s first half against Ohio State, Michigan hemorrhaged three goals in just a minute. Facing a physical onslaught from Notre Dame, twice the Wolverines couldn’t find a rhythm and lost in overtime.
When they lose confidence, other teams march to easy wins.
With the second half of the season beginning — one with major postseason implications as Michigan battles for a regional seed — the Wolverines will find their confidence tested. It’s on their leadership and structure to make sure momentary lapses don’t derail entire games.
That encouragement can be the difference between Beecher hitting the boards in celebration or elation.