SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — When the No. 5 Michigan hockey team took the ice against Boston University last weekend, the balance of high-danger chances swung heavily away from it. Doomed by tips, screens and rebounds, the Wolverines were simply outmatched at net front, leading to their first loss of the season.

But on Saturday night, Michigan demonstrated plainly that it had learned its lesson.

Dominating the premium spaces at both net fronts, the Wolverines (5-1 overall) outshot Lake Superior State (0-3-1) by 14 while blocking 8 to stave off a season-high 22 penalty minutes and complete the sweep, 5-1, in their first road series of the season. 

“I thought our O-Zone was a lot better this weekend,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “Getting into high ice and then switching, and then just converging to the net, there were some really nice plays.”

Forced to spend four of the first six minutes on the kill after committing two early penalties, however, the Wolverines struggled to get much going on offense right away. Instead, they tightened up on the opposite end, getting bodies in the slot to block shots and cross-ice passes, limiting the Lakers to just four shots over two power plays and seizing the early momentum.

“One thing we talk about is pressure versus containment,” Naurato said. “When we can outnumber them, that’s pressure, and when we’re containing, they’ve got numbers. I think we contained the net front very well.”

Michigan faced momentary lapses in its domination of center ice on defense, specifically when Lake Superior State forward Timo Bakos snuck into the slot on the power play during the second period to cut the Wolverines’ lead to two. But by staying tight to the crease to kill off 10 of 11 power plays, Michigan limited the damage and turned that goal into an anomaly. 

And for the limited time that they were at full strength, the Wolverines monopolized the slot in the offensive zone to create golden scoring chances. 

With multiple Michigan players stationed at the net front in the first period, sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich fired a point wrister that bounced off multiple bodies, one of the posts and into the net to take the 1-0 lead. Minutes later, freshman forward Adam Fantilli collected a loose puck in front of the crease before backhanding it in to double the first-period lead.

“Our biggest thing is just outnumbering at the net,” Naurato said. “Defensively, you’re trying to protect the net front, so then how do you pull people away (on offense)?”

Then, two minutes into the second period, freshman forward Jackson Hallum delivered a forecheck in the offensive zone slot to steal the puck from Lake Superior State’s defense. Freshman forward TJ Hughes picked up where Hallum left off, corralling the puck and faking a cross-crease pass back to Hallum right at the post, before blasting it top shelf. Hughes added his second on the night later, crashing the net to clean up Fantilli’s rebound and extend the lead to three.

Though the Wolverines only tacked on one more goal — off the stick of sophomore forward Dylan Duke — it continued to control the slot both ways. Michigan kept creating chances off tips and rebounds in the offensive end, while clearing loose pucks in front of the net to prevent the Lakers from sustaining theirs.

“It seemed like they would have had more shots,” Naurato said. “But I thought our defensemen did a great job of boxing out, getting body position, lifting sticks and clearing the front of the net.”

Given that the Wolverines had to contend with being down a man for more than a third of the game and spent 40% of the final period on the kill, that commanding net-front presence prevented a slew of penalties from spiraling into a collapse. 

And for a team that only trudged to the final whistle the night prior, Michigan’s 60-minute domination of center ice served as a forceful reminder of how important controlling that region is to the Wolverines’ success.