Sophomore right wing Will Lockwood leveled a Nittany Lion defenseman into the board Saturday, quickly drawing ire — and the tweet of a whistle — from an official.
But while the hit wasn’t glamorous and sent Lockwood to the penalty box for five minutes, it still represented a Michigan hockey team committed to all-around defense.
“Last night we talked about not going anywhere giving up five goals against anybody,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “And we’ve got to buy in and make a total commitment to team defense.”
Sophomore goaltenders Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne did their part of the job, recording 49 and 42 saves, respectively, in a pair of up-and-down defensive performances that saw the Wolverines earn a split in their Big Ten opening series against No. 15 Penn State.
As the clock ran past the 10-minute mark in the second period Saturday, Michigan was leading the Nittany Lions, 3-0. The Wolverines had seen an eerily similar situation the night before.
Leading by two goals, the Michigan front seemed caught off-guard when the Nittany Lions brought an onslaught of offense that ultimately granted them an overtime win in the series debut.
However, determined to put a disappointing late-game loss the night before behind them, the Wolverines entered Saturday with a clean-slate mentality that would afford them a dominant 5-2 victory.
They didn’t just will themselves to a win on Saturday, though. In fact, Michigan looked like a completely different group. And that was the reason Pearson didn’t see his team give up the five comeback goals that Penn State had netted Friday.
This time, 29 blocked shots, a mean defensive front and a stellar performance from Lavigne allowed the Wolverines to keep their lead. Even while its aggressive defensive mentality afforded Michigan nine penalties Saturday, its penalty kills seemed to have new legs to stand on as well.
“They had some opportunities,” Pearson said. “Hayden Lavigne and LaFontaine were our best penalty killers. They did a real nice job, but we blocked a lot of shots too.”
Despite 11 shots by the Penn State offense during the period, Lavigne’s prowess in front of the net and solid performances from the likes of sophomore defenseman Griffin Luce and junior left wing Brendan Warren killed off the penalty.
An even truer testament to the durability of the Wolverines’ back line was its ability to hold the Nittany Lions to one goal in the third period Saturday opposed to the three – one in overtime – that it had given up the night before.
“It’s huge. I think we learned from our mistakes last night – we made a lot,” said senior right wing Tony Calderone. “And early in the season we hadn’t played with too many leads, but we watched video and (were) able to come out tonight and correct those mistakes.”
While the Wolverines’ record reflects a weekend that was evenly split, unlucky late-game breaks Friday and a dominant rout Saturday proved that Michigan has the ability to compete against some of the top teams in the nation.