Four minutes into the second period, consecutive Niagara penalties sent the No. 4 Michigan hockey team (11-4-0 overall, 5-3-0 Big Ten) on a 5-on-3 advantage.
Early on, limited Wolverine passing kept the Purple Eagles (2-7-2) afloat, but once Michigan got the puck moving it couldn’t be stopped. A hard wrist shot from senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg in the slot shanked hard off goaltender Jake Sibell. Senior forward Michael Pastujov corralled the rebound, sniping an easy putback goal.
The goal gave the Wolverines a 2-1 lead they wouldn’t relinquish, defeating Niagara, 6-1, to end its two-game losing streak and begin to right the ship.
“Overall, I’m happy with the performance,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We didn’t give them much … good win against a scrappy team.”
Freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards sparked offensive action for Michigan early. Around eight minutes into the tilt, Edwards took the puck at the goal with speed, catching the Niagara defense seemingly off guard. He held the puck on his left before shifting it right at the very last moment. The move sent Sibell sprawling on the ice, where he barely got his left skate on the puck to make a miraculous save.
Moments later, however, Edwards got his revenge.
He received the puck on the far left side of the goal off a cross ice pass from sophomore defenseman Steve Holtz that trickled off sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau’s stick. With freshman forward Dylan Duke obstructing Sibell’s vision, Edwards netted his first goal of the season from a difficult angle.
“(It’s) obviously a great feeling,” Edwards said on scoring his goal. “Kind of get that one out of the way, and keep going from here on out.”
The Edwards sequence stymied a relatively aggressive and comfortable Niagara offense that was present in the game’s first 10 minutes, but it recovered during a power play with less than a minute left in the period. The penalty’s first face off went to the Golden Eagles, and a redirect in front of the goal by forward Christian Gorscak tied the game at one to end the first period.
With competition relatively even throughout the first period — and the Wolverines only outshooting Niagara by a mark of nine to seven — it was the second period where Michigan took complete command.
The period began with the puck living in the neutral zone, but after the penalties and Pastujov goal, the game swung heavily in the Wolverines’ favor. They established an up-tempo offensive rhythm, poke-checked the puck away every time the Purple Eagles looked to enter their offensive zone and controlled possession throughout.
Niagara’s one power play late in the period was met by force from Michigan, who regularly cleared the puck and created multiple shorthanded chances. When the dust settled on a dominant second period, the Wolverines outshot the Purple Eagles 23-2 in the frame.
“One area that we thought we had an advantage is our speed,” Pearson said. “We needed to use it, we needed to play fast. … We got too cute, I thought, in the first period.”
Holding a thin one-goal lead entering the third period, Michigan’s shooting became fruitful in the third, where goals came down like a waterfall.
Highlighting the Wolverines’ four goals in the period was a nearly impossible shot by freshman defenseman Luke Hughes seven minutes in. Hughes held the puck on the right of the goal post, essentially lined up with the red goal line, and somehow managed to sneak the puck between the right post and Sibell, housing the puck all the way into the top left corner for Michigan’s fourth goal.
“I’m gonna have to look at it on tape, just to see how it went in,” Pearson said. “… He’s a talented player, he can score from any angle.”
A nifty backhanded goal by sophomore forward Brendan Brisson with nine minutes left, followed by a difficult goal from Blankenburg on the left side were the nails in the coffin. The Wolverines did what they were supposed to do, outplaying an outmatched opponent to return to the win column.