Michigan cruises past Penn State, 6-2, sweeping weekend series
STATE COLLEGE — Riding on momentum from a strong victory last night, the No. 2 Michigan hockey team (10-2 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) stayed hot, crushing No. 19 Penn State (6-5, 0-4), 6-2.
It was a tale of two cities in Happy Valley, with the win propelling the Wolverines to their fourth straight victory, while sinking the Nittany Lions to their fourth straight loss.
Michigan was able to manage Penn State’s voluminous offense through strong goaltender play and a commitment to blocking shots, while its offense had no issues generating threatening scoring chances.
“I’m really proud of our players,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “… The points are so tough to get in the Big Ten, so (it’s great) any time you can scratch on some points, especially on the road.”
Seven minutes into the affair, Michigan struck first, pouncing on an error from goaltender Liam Souliere. Sophomore forward Kent Johnson sent a weak dump at Souliere, who fiddled with the puck and failed to control it under his glove.
Sophomore forward Brendan Brisson streamed in, taking the puck on his stick and moving it from left to right in front of the crease. The move left Souliere out of position, and Brisson flipped a backhand top shelf for the game’s first goal.
Sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo, coming off a stellar 33 save performance last night, remained hot. He continued to give the heavy-shooting Penn State offense fits, staying active and totaling 34 saves on the night. Directly following Brisson’s goal, Portillo made key saves to end a Nittany Lion surge and keep the momentum squarely with the Wolverines.
With eight minutes left in the first period, the Nittany Lions had a prime opportunity to take control. Junior defenseman Keaton Pehrson slammed into a defenseless skater in the head area, leading to his ejection and a five minute major penalty.
Another strong penalty kill from Michigan — who extinguished four of five — left the Nittany Lions’ five minute man advantage fruitless. It took Penn State 40 seconds to get its first shot of the power play, and it was unable to generate any real opportunities through the first two minutes.
The Nittany Lions gained momentum later into the major, but Portillo held his ground while Wolverine skaters got on the ice to cut off passing lanes. The penalty kill ended with a shorthanded breakaway by freshman defenseman Luke Hughes, and when the dust settled, Penn State squandered a potentially game-altering five minute advantage.
“That can be a real boost to your team when you kill a major, and it can be a little bit of a downer if you don’t score, so I think that was a key point of the game,” Pearson said.
After failing to convert on the major penalty, the Nittany Lions came out hot to start the second period. They opened with a barrage of shots and positioned themselves tactfully within the Michigan defensive zone.
Thirty seconds into the period, forward Kevin Wall fired a strong shot at Portillo from the left side. He made the save, but the rebound caressed slowly across the crease, where forward Connor McMenamin was waiting near the right post.
He popped the puck into the open net with ease, sending Pegula Ice Arena into a frenzy as a light show engulfed the arena. For the first time all series, Penn State was tied with the Wolverines.
The energy and momentum, however, was short lived.
Only two minutes later, a Hughes goal — his first of two in the evening — triggered an avalanche of goals that buried the Nittany Lions on their home ice.
“My wingers and our depth guys made some really nice plays on those goals,” Hughes said. “Duke had a really nice pass for that first one, same with Kent (Johnson), and I thought it was a great team win and great team effort.”
Midway through the second period, a putback goal from sophomore forward Matt Beniers made it 3-1, while goals from sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau and defenseman Owen Power extended Michigan’s lead to 5-1.
Penn State showed signs of life, with forward Ben Copeland scoring at the expiration of a five on three penalty in the third period, but a quick goal from Hughes in response kept the game far out of reach.
“We have the horses, and you got to let them run once in a while,” Pearson said.
In a top twenty battle in Penn State, the Wolverines solidified themselves as a premier program in the nation and top national championship contender, winning handedly two nights in a row for a statement sweep.