Mel Pearson is aware that Minnesota represents a big test thus far in the Michigan hockey season.
“They get too much space and time in your zone,” he said, “and you’re going to be in trouble sooner or later.”
Pearson is likely repeating a sentiment that many coaches around the country have felt about No. 4 Minnesota (3-1 Big Ten, 7-3 overall) and its high-powered squad.
However, the Wolverines (1-1, 5-3) are coming into the two-game series with a chip on their shoulder after a 3-2 defeat at the hands of Ferris State.
A 7-2 win the night before, however, shows that Michigan’s offense has all the hallmark signs of being an elite entity in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines’ top-performing front line, consisting of seniors Dexter Dancs, Tony Calderone and junior Cooper Marody have totaled 24 points over the past two weekends.
“You just have to play the game, the same game we’ve been playing,” Marody said. “We’ve been working really hard, playing well as a line, communicating well.”
So far this season, Michigan’s most challenging foe was Penn State two weekends ago. In a hostile State College atmosphere, the Wolverines held their own, tallying nine goals and splitting the series against a team that went 1-1 against the Golden Gophers earlier this season.
But this time, Michigan is playing at Yost in front of what will undoubtedly be a rowdy crowd, and the dynamic could work in the Wolverines’ favor instead of against them.
“It’s fun playing at home,” Marody said. “We definitely feed off the crowd really well.”
Underestimating Minnesota’s front would be a mistake, though. The Gophers’ offense is headed by forward Rem Pitlick, who boasts an impressive resume with four goals and six assists in 10 games.
“We’re playing a team that has balance and depth,” Pearson said. “I don’t want to speak negatively to the teams we’ve played but they don’t quite have the depth in the scoring that Minnesota does.”
Simply looking at Pitlick as the center of the Golden Gophers’ offense would be another mistake, as the team’s 26 goals have been netted by 15 different players.
A lot could go wrong this weekend for Michigan if the Golden Gophers’ scoring machine starts to churn.
But a lot could also go right if the Wolverines’ system is synchronous. When it is, the results are deadly.
If sophomore goaltenders Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne continue their rock-solid play in net, Michigan’s defense lays out blocking shots and the offense can continue its barrage of shots, the Wolverines could be in for a surprise.
“We have to play aggressive and we have to play mentally strong and physically strong,” Pearson said. “We can do it. … You’ve got to take an extra step and with a team like this you have to.”
Minnesota will be a major test for Michigan, and just as Marody emphasized, the Wolverines will have to set the tone early Friday to find success.