Following an opening weekend split, the Michigan hockey team (3-1) came back from a short break with newfound energy, going on to sweep Vermont (2-3) this weekend with 4-1 and 3-2 victories on Friday and Saturday night, respectively. The Daily highlights four key takeaways from the series, including the areas the Wolverines excelled and the areas the team needs to improve before Michigan travels to Penn State for its first Big Ten series of the season.
Underclassmen steadily rising to the occasion
In Friday night’s home opener, freshman forward Josh Norris scored two goals to put the game out of reach. Fewer than 24 hours later, sophomore forward Jake Slaker converted two of his own to complete a comeback victory over the Catamounts and the Wolverines’ first weekend sweep of the season.
Michigan’s average age of 20 years and 324 days is the third youngest in Division I. But that doesn’t stop the underclassmen from stepping up, and it doesn’t stop coach Mel Pearson from depending on them in big moments.
“We’re relying on sophomores and freshmen and a few seniors to lead us,” Pearson said following Saturday’s matchup.
Through solid and consistent play from the likes of Slaker, Norris, sophomore forward Will Lockwood and freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes, the youngsters look to be guiding the team — a silver-lining to the obvious issue of certain upperclassmen underperforming thus far in the season.
Power play struggles continue
Though the Wolverines eked out two wins this weekend, their inability to capitalize on the power play persists. After going 2-for-5 with a man advantage in its first regular season game against St. Lawrence, Michigan has gone a collective 0-for-17 on the power play in its last three contests.
For a team that finished 17th nationally on the power play just last year, the Wolverines went 0-for-9 this weekend and surrendered a shorthanded goal to Vermont in Friday’s slate.
While Pearson has stressed special teams early in the season, the coach admitted that continuing to emphasize power plays in practice will be crucial to the team’s success moving forward.
“We need to simplify things,” Pearson said. “We get a little too cute and don’t get many shots. … We need to move the puck quicker and get in sync a little bit. We were a little out of sync, but that’s up to me and that’s my responsibility and we’ve got enough good players and skill players, so we should be converting. But we’ll get there.”
Strong goaltending keeps Wolverines in contests
With three goals allowed this weekend, sophomores Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine proved that Michigan has a sturdy backbone.
Most notably, Lavigne notched his first win for the Wolverines in a 28-save performance Saturday.
The two goaltenders, who are splitting time for the first eight games of the season, boasted a total 43 saves with a .936 average save percentage over the weekend.
“Two good goalies in both Hayden and Jack,” said sophomore forward Adam Winborg. “… As long as we do our job in front of them, they’re there, so they’ll always give us a chance to win the games.”
While the Wolverines’ defense allowed just 16 and 30 shots Friday and Saturday, respectively, the duo still wasn’t fazed, making both routine and clever saves in the crease to ensure Michigan victories.
Early roadblocks appear late in games
During Friday night’s matchup, the Wolverines let 16 shots fly in the first period, none of them finding the back of the net. They came back with another 16 in the second period, this time with two goals to show for it — albeit late in the period.
On Saturday, Michigan took 15 shots in the first and second periods combined, with only one goal to show for it.
What seemed like such high-octane starts to both games still didn’t give the Wolverines a dominant grip on the match.
However, the four combined goals in the third periods of both matchups proved that Michigan offense’s relentless pursuit of the net takes time, but is ultimately lethal.
“I’m happy for them,” Pearson said. “It’s good they get rewarded for staying with the game plan and hanging in there. And our third periods have been pretty good this year so far.”
Going up against stronger opponents, though, the Wolverines will have to net these shots early if they want momentum on its side when it matters most.