STATE COLLEGE — Near the end of the second period, a scrum broke out between the Michigan and Penn State hockey teams. Senior defenseman Nolan De Jong jumped on the back of Penn State forward Zach Saar, pulling him to the ground, while Nittany Lion forward Nikita Pavlychev lay on top of sophomore forward Brendan Warren, pinning him to the ice.
Moments later, freshman defenseman Griffin Luce retaliated against a Penn State player after the whistle and was called for a penalty.
After all was said and done, the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (2-0-0 Big Ten, 13-1-1 overall) took a 5-on-3 power play and a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
Neither stat would stand long, though.
Just 24 seconds into the third period, Penn State forward Andrew Sturtz tipped a puck into the net past freshman goaltender Jack LaFontaine, extending the Nittany Lions’ lead and putting them well on their way to a physical 5-1 victory over the 20th-ranked Wolverines.
“One team was getting embarrassed,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson on the physicality of the game. “We’ve got some pride, too.”
Added senior forward Alex Kile: “Any time we play Penn State, it’s going to be a physical game, especially in this rink. It’s a great crowd and a great student section. So when they get involved, it really helps the home team. They played physical, and it kind of makes us respond in the same way.”
Michigan’s only goal came early in the first period. After Penn State had taken an early 1-0 lead, senior forward Max Shuart took the puck into the offensive zone. He then laid the puck off backhand for junior forward Cutler Martin, who fired the puck into the back of the net to even the score.
But the Wolverines (0-2-0, 6-7-1) ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Nittany Lions, being outshot, 58-23. And much like senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort the night before, LaFontaine was praised for his play on the night. Despite allowing five goals, the freshman set a career-high in saves with 53.
“I thought he played well,” Berenson said. “I thought he stayed in the game and gave us a chance.”
Arguably the strongest part of Michigan’s team all season has been its penalty kill — the Wolverines’ unit entered the weekend ranked first nationally in the category. But even that unit was exposed by Penn State, which scored four power-play goals on the weekend.
Michigan will return home next week to take on Wisconsin — which boasts another top-20 offense — before taking a break for Christmas. And if the Wolverines are unable to shore up their defensive weaknesses that were exposed this weekend, they may be in for another long series.
“As a unit of five on the ice, we have to be better,” Bernson said. “Penn State put on a clinic this weekend, and we’ve got to learn from it.”