STATE COLLEGE — Some statements take less time to make than others.
With just over five minutes left to play in the second period Saturday, Michigan senior forward Tony Calderone received senior forward Dexter Dancs’ pass, took his time on the puck and fired it past Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones from the top of the crease for his second goal of the game.
Before the Nittany Lions had a chance to blink, the Wolverines had another, as junior forward Brendan Warren ripped a shot off a face off into the top left corner.
In just nine seconds, Michigan went from desperately protecting a 1-0 lead to having a comfortable three-goal cushion, and was well on its way to a decisive, 5-2 victory over No. 15 Penn State (2-2 Big Ten, 4-4 overall) at Pegula Ice Arena, proving not only that the Wolverines could hang with the Big Ten’s best, but beat them as well.
For much of the contest, one could have been forgiven for thinking they were watching the same game as they had watched the night before.
Just as they did Friday night, Michigan (1-1, 4-2) withstood early Nittany Lion pressure before jumping on the scoreboard first. Four minutes into the game, Calderone took a pass from junior forward Cooper Marody and although his initial attempt was saved, Calderone stayed with it and directed the puck past Jones into the net.
The physical nature of Friday’s game extended to Saturday as well. Seven minutes in, sophomore forward Will Lockwood unloaded a massive hit on Penn State defenseman Cole Hults while chasing after the puck near the boards. After a small scrum ensued, Lockwood was assessed a major penalty for boarding. But thanks to four saves by sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, the Wolverines escaped the penalty kill with its lead intact.
“(That was) big time,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “With their power play that can totally change things, you can get behind by a couple, crowd gets into it, so that was one of the keys to the game.”
Michigan killed a second penalty late in the period, but not without a close call. With just under two minutes left in the first, Alex Limoges’ shot from the right side deflected off junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi, but Lavigne prevented it from crossing the line — a decision which was upheld upon review.
Lavigne stopped all 14 shots that came his way in the first period, and finished with 42 saves in facing 44 shots. Thanks to this effort, the Wolverines took a lead into the locker room for a second straight night, despite having been outshot, 14-4. Lavigne’s performance came after a 49-save effort by sophomore Jack LaFontaine on Friday.
“We’ve rotated them right from day one and it looks like that’s going to continue,” Pearson said. “If they’re both playing, that means they’re both playing well.”
The game’s chippy tone continued to escalate throughout the second period. Seconds after Lockwood was penalized for interference, freshman forward Josh Norris and Nittany Lions forward Brett Murray were both sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct with just under 14 minutes left in the second. Seemingly every check or scrum in the crease was met with a standoff between the opposing players.
“Some things sometimes happen and guys go down,” Pearson said. “But we’ve got to be more disciplined.”
Penn State responded to Michigan’s flurry when center Nate Sucese drilled a long-range shot through Lavigne’s legs. But any spark the Nittany Lions may have received following that goal failed to materialize.
The Wolverines put the game to bed with two goals in quick succession. Dancs scored his third goal of the weekend with just under 16 minutes left in the final period, and sophomore forward Nick Pastujov wrapped a shot around Jones just 74 seconds later.
With 11:33 remaining, Penn State forward Nikita Pavlychev scored a consolation goal to create the final margin.
Michigan accrued 18 penalty minutes compared to just eight for Penn State. But the Nittany Lions, who entered the weekend ranked sixth nationally in power-play percentage, failed to convert on any of their five power-play opportunities, and were scoreless with the man advantage in both games, going 0-for-8.
“Our penalty kill was awesome,” Calderone said. “They couldn’t have been better tonight. I don’t know exact stats, but they came up big, blocked shots — awesome work by those guys.”
On Friday, the Wolverines were one minute away from sending a message to the rest of the Big Ten. And Saturday, behind an improved defense and efficient finishing, Michigan delivered that message.