For Michigan hockey this weekend, it was a tale of two teams. Skating from Minnesota’s defensive zone, Golden Gophers’ defenseman Brock Faber slapped his stick on the ice and called for the puck. Left wide open, he took a pass into Michigan’s crease and walked the puck in for Minnesota’s first goal.
This set the stage for one of Michigan’s worst defensive performances of the season. The Wolverines had trouble managing the Gophers’ fast skating, and they suffered from individual mistakes. This combination led a series of outnumbered rushes that mounted to a 5-1 loss.
Michigan knew adjustments had to be made if they wanted a chance in the next game.
“We had a good meeting with our eight defenseman before the game,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We told them they have to play defense. We were doing some things that normally we hadn’t seen in a while.”
The defensemen left that meeting resolved to play as a team. With the team being so young, camaraderie and team values are still developing. Sophomore defenseman Owen Power and freshman defenseman Luke Hughes are high profile players and dominate the back line. Making sure the group plays as a unit is just as important as any defensive strategy.
“Everyone knew we didn’t play well the first night,” Hughes said. “(Pearson’s) big point was to stick together. We win together and we lose together.”
Multiple factors hindered Michigan’s performance on Friday. Failing to have a third player high enough on the ice stopped the team from scoring. The Wolverines also were working in a tweak to their forecheck throughout the game. These factors combined created an abundance of scoring attempts for Minnesota.
Michigan came together in the second matchup against the Gophers. It outshot Minnesota 44-23 and dominated on both ends of the ice. While the Gophers again scored first, this time Michigan responded. It clamped down defensively and went on to score six goals en route to a 6-2 win.
The Wolverines proved they have the ability to pick each other up after a tough loss. They played as a team and cut out the flashy individual play. Michigan brought a renewed defensive effort against Minnesota in the second game and bounced back.
“There were three or four things we needed to do better,” Pearson said. “I thought we did those things and got some bounces. Things went in for us but we earned those.”
Much has been said about the Wolverines’ offensive talent, but the defense has lagged behind at times. This can be remedied over time, but a desire to fight back after shoddy performances will be really important for Michigan as it continues Big Ten play without all of its defensive issues ironed out.
This weekend’s second matchup against the Gophers lays a blueprint for what that sort of bounce back needs to look back for the Wolverines to be successful. The next few weeks will tell whether or not they can repeat this sort of performance.