The last time the No. 7 Michigan hockey team took the ice, it took more than a period for it to find its rhythm. 

Shocked by Lindenwood’s physicality, the Wolverines could not play to their strengths. They ended up in an early hole, one they desperately needed to recover from quickly.

But while Michigan didn’t score the first goal of the game again Saturday, the Wolverines were the ones who set the tone. 

With the fourth line — sophomore forward Mark Estapa, senior forward Nick Granowicz and freshman forward Kienan Draper — providing the energy from the moment the puck dropped, Michigan (2-0 overall) took it right to the Lions (0-4), defeating them 3-1. 

“To see those guys get the start, it gets the bench going, gets the boys going,” sophomore forward Dylan Duke said. “And then when they go out and have the start they did, we fed off that.”

But while the Wolverines came out hot, creating most of the early chances and jumping out to an eight-shot advantage within the first four minutes, none of those shots found the back of the net. 

And off the heels of a missed chance, it was the Lions who capitalized first. With Michigan’s defenders playing up at the blue line, a cleared puck slipped past the stick of junior defenseman Steve Holtz, leaving cherry-picking forward Hunter Johannes out in front of everyone else. Johannes promptly fired it into the top right corner, and Lindenwood once again took an early lead. 

But unlike a night prior, the Wolverines wasted no time striking back.

Just as Lions defenseman Caleb Price re-entered the game following a roughing penalty — which he earned for a late hit on Estapa — freshman forward Adam Fantilli launched a wrister from the right side. Duke, screening in front of the net, stuck his stick into the air and tipped the puck past the goaltender’s glove, knotting the game at one. 

“The biggest thing is when guys are shooting the puck like (sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich) and Adam, to take the goalie’s eyes away,” Duke said. “They have options when I’m there, and I just feed off the tips.”

Starting the second period as well, the fourth line continued to set the tone. Though Estapa got called for a slashing penalty seven minutes in, it was his return from the box that catalyzed an odd man rush for Michigan. Minutes later, Granowicz delivered a massive hit in open ice, further embedding him and his linemates in Lindenwood’s minds. 

Thrown off their game, the Lions got messy. 

Within the first five minutes following Granowicz’ hit, they recorded three penalties — including when Lindenwood defenseman Joe Prouty essentially tackled Estapa — to give the Wolverines a slew of high-percentage chances. With a two-man advantage, Fantilli found the back of the net himself, delivering a rocket through the five-hole to give Michigan the lead. 

“(Estapa) works really really hard, he’s an agitator,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “He’s the nicest kid off the ice. He’s a Labrador. … But even in practice, he gets guys frustrated. It’s just what he does.”  

Six minutes into the final third, the Wolverines tacked on one more, as freshman defenseman Seamus Casey collected the puck in the slot and blasted it just below the crossbar to give Michigan some insurance.

As the clock wound down on the Lions’ comeback attempt, Estapa and Granowicz continued to egg them on in front of the net. The Wolverines’ fourth line was there every step of the way as Lindenwood committed two more penalties, forcing the Lions to try to create offense while consistently down a man. 

And when he was asked how Estapa consistently gets under his opponents’ skin, Fantilli laughed it off and responded:

 “I might have to not answer that one.”  

As Estapa led Michigan’s postgame handshake line, imparting a few last words on the Lindenwood players he tormented all game long, one thing became clear: 

If the fourth line continues to set the tone as they did tonight, the Wolverines might just be able to keep establishing their game right away.