Looking to establish early dominance over Bowling Green in Saturday’s exhibition, sophomore forward Kent Johnson set the tone early for the Michigan hockey team:
Less than two minutes into the tilt, Johnson powered past the Falcon defense and was left with only goaltender Zack Rose to beat. A pass from sophomore forward Matty Beniers originating left of the Wolverines’ net came in hot, ricocheting off Johnson’s waiting stick. Without breaking stride, Johnson tracked the puck down with poise, shifted it to his left and sniped it past the helpless Rose, launching the offensive onslaught.
“I mean that first goal,” senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg said on Saturday. “… I was kind of speechless after seeing that.”
The opening goal may have served as a key spark in front of Michigan’s raucous crowd, but Johnson’s immense impact on the Wolverine offense stretched far deeper. Johnson was heavily involved in scoring opportunities throughout the night, leading Michigan with three assists, and disorienting Bowling Green’s defense with constant pressure and skilled puck movement. His production was consistent, as he facilitated goal-scoring early to get the Wolverines comfortable and late to put the game out of reach.
“When we share the puck, when we move the puck like we did tonight, we’re going to be really good,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said.
Midway through the first period with Michigan up 1-0, Johnson took leadership of the first power play of the night, using his threat as a goal scorer to initiate the man-up goal.
He cocked his stick back to attract the eyes of the entire defense, only to flip the puck over to sophomore defenseman Owen Power, who quickly zipped it to sophomore forward Brendan Brisson for a one-timer that snuck into the top of the net.
As the scoring continued, Johnson consistently created opportunities for his teammates. He assisted on both of Blankenburg’s back-to-back second period goals to extend Michigan’s lead to 6-0.
Johnson’s third assist of the game was masterful, displaying his awareness of the ice, control of his momentum and ability to shift his body to create scoring chances. He received the puck from sophomore forward Philippe Lapointe while skating past center ice. Johnson then stopped on a dime, dusting off the Falcon defender who was closing in.
His stickhandling near the blue line captured the attention of three Bowling Green skaters, leaving Blankenburg with room to operate across the ice. Johnson wired the pass to the opposite side of the rink, threading the needle to anticipate Blankenburg’s signature speed and placing it only where he could reach. With such an ideal set up, Blankenburg had no problem skating past Falcon defenders and shooting it through the goaltender’s five-hole.
“Every time he stepped on the ice … my eyes were kind of glued on him,” freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich said. “He’s such a fun player to watch and so skilled that you know any moment of time, something insane could happen.”
Last season, Johnson was the Wolverines’ second-best facilitator with 18 total assists, trailing only then-freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau. Third in Michigan assists was defenseman Cam York, who left the team after signing a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The trifecta of Bordeleau, Johnson and York kept opposing defenses alert. They stretched defenses thin, always keeping them guessing via quick decision making and high-IQ plays. With York’s departure, Johnson must shoulder a greater responsibility in facilitating the offense and positioning his teammates for quality shots on net.
If Saturday’s exhibition was any indication, he is up for the challenge.