The Michigan hockey team hasn’t always been dominant in matchups against highly ranked teams.
It was swept in its series against then-No. 14 Notre Dame in November, losing both games in overtime. The Wolverines also split series against No. 11 Minnesota and No. 17 Ohio State in December.
The Wolverines’ schedule is highly competitive in the new year; they’ll have rematches against the Fighting Irish, Buckeyes and Golden Gophers, all of whom are currently ranked in the top 20.
That makes this weekend’s sweep of No. 10 Massachusetts even more important to the team’s momentum and confidence. In its first games since the break, the tone was set.
“We had to earn everything we got,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s not like we were out-shot 50 to 16 and won the game. We controlled a lot of the momentum in the games and a lot of territorial management. It’s a real confidence booster.”
The Wolverines beat one of the toughest goaltenders in college hockey – Matt Murray. Last year Murray recorded the eighth-most shutouts in the nation. This past weekend he made 79 saves between the two games and gave the Michigan forwards a battle.
Now that the freshmen have a few games under their belts, expectations have risen for the young players. The Wolverines have standouts in freshman defenseman Luke Hughes and freshman forwards Dylan Duke and Mackie Samoskevich.
“We’ve always been, as I coach, a better second half team,” Pearson said. “We turn the heat up on players in the second half. We are more familiar with the freshmen, what they can do and what their expectations are.”
Hughes has had an impressive start, earning 19 points and playing a pivotal role in Michigan’s offensive play. Duke and Samoskevich have three and four goals, respectively. Ramping up their production could be vital in the second part of the season.
After winter break, the finish line is in sight for the Wolverines. Only six series and an exhibition match remain until the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. Every game that counts is a conference matchup and each could affect the team’s seed come tournament time; ultimately, beating the Minutemen could be the start to a streak of important wins.
“Every league seems to be a completely different style of hockey,” junior forward Johnny Beecher said. “Getting a sweep under our belt is major confidence because come tournament time you’re playing teams that you have faced anything like.”
Beecher scored an empty goal in both games against Massachusetts. After not scoring since the Penn State series in November, getting a few goals under him was key; having all of their veterans and young players in form is important.
As the season winds down, the Wolverines’ win against the Minutemen could be an indicator of how they fare in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a real confidence booster,” Pearson said. “You could have fake confidence, but it was real and you can sense it, you can feel it.”