Johnny Beecher brought his stick up over his shoulder and slammed it to the ice in frustration.
The freshman forward, sprung on a breakaway thanks to a pass from graduate transfer forward Jacob Hayhurst, had cut to the front of the net and tried to send the puck five-hole on his backhand past Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon. It was late in the second period of Friday’s game, and Beecher was looking for his second goal of the night.
But Lethemon got down in his butterfly to make the save, and as Beecher watched him make the stop, he became visibly frustrated. Beecher’s goal earlier in the game was his first since scoring two goals on Jan. 17 at Penn State — but it wasn’t the kind of flashy goal Beecher has demonstrated a tendency toward this year.
The puck had simply bounced off his skate and into the net after Hayhurst tipped a long-range shot from senior defenseman Luke Martin.
“I had an ugly one last night,” Beecher said Saturday. “Tried to get the monkey off my back a little bit, off my foot.”
Saturday night, Beecher flipped the script. He scored again — his ninth goal of the season — in dramatic, highlight-reel fashion, helping propel Michigan to a 3-0 win over the Spartans.
After forward Mitchell Lewandowski’s shot sailed wide of the Wolverines’ net, Beecher skated over to the side boards to collect the puck. He began to move the puck up the ice, as he would in any normal breakout from the defensive zone.
There wasn’t a clear option to pass to, and as Beecher moved through the neutral zone, he started to pick up speed. Then he picked up a little more, and then a little more.
He met two Michigan State skaters on the entry to the offensive zone, and neither Lewandowski nor defenseman Dennis Cesana could do anything to slow him down.
Beecher wove between the two, cut across the top of the right circle and headed down the slot in front of Lethemon with a full head of steam. In many ways, his approach as he got close to Lethemon mirrored the breakaway attempt from Friday night that Lethemon saved.
This time, Beecher wasn’t able to get a shot off. He considered shooting five-hole again but ended up coming around left side of the net without taking a shot — with the puck still on his stick.
“Just keep going after it,” Beecher said. “… Unfortunately, I lost it. But at the end of the day you just gotta keep putting the puck on the net and hope it goes in.”
As Beecher swung around the top of the left circle, he saw Hayhurst providing a screen in front of Lethemon. Three quick steps later and — without warning — Beecher fired a shot that slipped between Lethemon’s left pad and the goal post.
The goal put Michigan ahead 2-0 over the Spartans, and with how stingy the Wolverines’ defense had been all series, it started to look like two goals might be an insurmountable hill for Michigan State to climb.
“Obviously, Johnny Beecher’s goal is a big goal,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “From that point on, I thought we were in good control.”
Dramatic goals like Beecher’s on Saturday are frequently lucky, spur-of-the-moment occurrences that kind of come out of nowhere. But for Beecher, the goal represented a season’s worth of work on that kind of shot — and a bit of inspiration from Connor McDavid, who is currently second in the NHL with 95 points this season.
“That’s kind of been a shot I’ve been trying to pull off the whole season,” Beecher said. “Coach Pearson actually sent me a clip, I want to say it was about three or four days ago. I think it was McDavid. He kind of wrapped around the top of the circle and he kind of let the same shot go. He had seen me try and do it a couple times before and just tried to give me a little bit of an idea.”
And instead of slamming his stick on the ice in frustration, as he’d done the night before, Beecher balled up his right fist and punched the ice in celebration before flinging himself into the glass in front of him as his teammates swarmed around him to continue the celebration.
As he skated back toward the bench for fist bumps from the rest of the Wolverines, Beecher brought his left fist up to his head and hit it against his helmet — a celebration that’s become common throughout the season. Sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe says it represents the team putting their hard hats on and going to work.
Saturday, Beecher went to work nearly 200 feet from where he eventually scored what’s arguably the most impressive goal of his Michigan career.
It paid off.