Freshman forward Jake Slaker had already tallied an assist on the first goal of the game, but he wasn’t done. With just over seven minutes left in the first period, Slaker trapped a pass and left the puck floating on the ice in front of junior defenseman Cutler Martin. Martin quickly jumped on the opportunity, scraping up the puck and shooting it past Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry.
The goal came during the second game of Michigan’s weekend split against Wisconsin and was one of four goals recorded in the 4-1 win. Martin also contributed a shorthanded goal the night before on a two-on-one breakaway, but Michigan (1-3-0 Big Ten, 7-8-1 overall) was already down by two goals and unable to come back from its deficit.
In the Wolverines’ weekend split, Martin has recently proved to be instrumental in the scoring process. So far this season, he has tallied four goals, three of which came in the last three games.
“I’ve been playing forward since what, the third game of the season now?” Martin said. “Never played, or I played two or three games last year, just a few shifts here and there. I think now I’m finally getting the hang of it, finding the right spots. I’m playing with a lot of guys that are really good, they’re finding me and getting the puck in the slot, so they make it pretty easy for me. But the coaches are in my ear — ‘Shoot it, shoot it, shoot it! Don’t pass it!’ — so I’m just trying to shoot it.”
So far, it looks like that has been working. Two of Martin’s goals have come during important times in games for the Wolverines — his first goal of the season tied the game against Michigan Tech, and his most recent gave Michigan a two-goal lead against Wisconsin, a team that had previously pounded them one night earlier, 7-4.
After primarily playing as a defenseman at the beginning of the season, Martin’s promotion to left wing on the second line this past weekend has recognized that effort. The series featured physical performances from both teams, and the Wolverines racked up a high number of penalties. Martin’s goal on Saturday helped guide the team to a victory despite those penalties.
But Michigan can’t rely on scoring to be there to pick up the pieces every time it tallies penalties, and Martin acknowledges that.
“We’re obviously trying to play tough out there,” Martin said. “Our team this year, we have to play tough in order to win. I think that the officiating is what it is, and we have to go out there and play as hard as we can and just try to find a way not to be in the box. We kind of knew (Friday) the way they were calling the game that we’re going to have to play clean, so that’s on us to stay out of the box. We can’t take that many penalties and continue to win games. It’s just not going to work.”
The Wolverines will now have a break until the Great Lakes Invitational at the end of December, which means they’ll have plenty of time to patch up inconsistencies with the penalties. Michigan has been experimenting with lines as well, so it’s unclear whether or not Martin will remain at his position on the second line. But with Martin’s recent production, it will be hard to downsize his role.