Seven minutes into the second period and down 2-1 to Western Michigan, junior forward Nick Pastujov positioned himself in front of the Broncos’ goalkeeper and wound up for a shot.
Before he could even see where the puck went, crack.
A Western Michigan blueliner leveled Pastujov into the ice, crunching his right shoulder. For a second, the No. 11 Michigan hockey team was a man down.
But the Wolverines stayed calm and picked up their teammate when it mattered. Instead of physically lifting Pastujov up, his brother — sophomore Michael Pastujov — knocked the rebound in right by the right tube, pulling Michigan to a tie and eventually, a 6-5 win.
While the Wolverines’ passing was somewhat haphazard in their opening loss to Vermont and their two exhibition games, the offense was crisp and well-executed Friday night. Although Michigan trailed for much of the first period, the Wolverines played stood their ground during the frame and throughout the night.
Instead of putting the other line at risk, the blue line played cohesively with the front line, rarely coughing up the puck. On the flip-side, when Western Michigan had the puck, it took a lot of screening and peripheral skating to even get into the zone.
“I think comes down to practice and chemistry,” said junior forward Jake Slaker. “We’ve had a few weeks to shuffle the lines around a lot and figuring out some chemistry, and it just worked tonight.”
After Pastujov’s second period goal, sophomore forward Josh Norris sliced through the zone and knifed the puck to senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi, who in turn lobbed it to junior forward Will Lockwood for the Wolverines’ second power play goal. For the game, the Wolverines went 3-for-7 in the power play, while holding the Broncos scoreless on four of their five power play opportunities
It’s not like the two teams are vastly different in terms of skill-level — Western Michigan is ranked No. 19 in the country for a reason. They battled back after falling into a three-goal deficit, and at times made Michigan’s defense look downright lethargic. But in a game with 15 total penalties, and many, many more hard hits, the Wolverines were the ones who were able to break the tie.
“Our goal is to be one of the least penalized teams in the country,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We talk about that all the time. It’s an emotional game, it’s a physical game, and you can’t get caught up in everything else … We have to control our emotions.”
If Michigan can keep calm on the ice, and keep calm when extra emotions invade the ice, they have the tools to make sure everything else falls into place, too.