BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — It was the perfect storm: a hungry team searching for its first win in front of a rambunctious home crowd, a young team making its first road trip of the season and a freshman goaltender making his first start.
But the No. 13 Michigan hockey team weathered the storm, emerging with a 2-1 win over Ferris State Friday night at Ewigleben Arena.
The Wolverines (2-1) were tested early and often by the Bulldogs (0-5), who set the tone with an aggressive forecheck and physical play. Ferris State kept the Michigan attack mostly in check and outshot the Wolverines in all three periods, finishing with a 29-16 advantage for the game.
But a young Michigan team hung tight behind strong play from freshman netminder Jack LaFontaine, who dealt with odd-man rushes all night en route to making 28 saves.
“I thought Jack played great the whole game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “They put pressure on us in the first period, more pressure in the second period — especially when we were two men short — and then in the third period when the game was on the line. For a freshman goalie to come in here and win a game like that is really impressive.”
Added LaFontaine: “As the game progressed, I kinda found my groove. I think our entire team found their groove. We got better as the game went on, and I think as much as the fans played a factor, we blocked it out and played our game.”
Michigan made the most of the few scoring chances it created — the Wolverines could not generate a consistent even-man attack, but were able to convert when given a man advantage.
After coming away empty-handed on its first two power plays in the first period, Michigan did not let the third go to waste. Nearly seven minutes into the second period, junior forward Dexter Dancs threaded a pass between two Bulldogs to find freshman center Jake Slaker, who put it past the Ferris State goaltender for the first goal of his career.
“It wasn’t a set play or anything,” Slaker said. “I think everyone was just kinda puck-watching. (Alex Kile) ended up passing to Dancs, and then Dancs saw that I was behind everyone and I had a little mini-breakaway. So I thought it turned out to be a read-and-react, and we ended up doing well with that.”
The Bulldogs came roaring back in the third, opening up the period with several grade-A chances. LaFontaine made several impressive stops to hold Michigan’s lead, but was unable to prevent Ferris State forward Andrew Mayer from burying one in the back of the net during a Bulldogs power play with 11:23 left in the third period.
Ferris State regained all the momentum with a tying goal, and it looked to have Michigan on the ropes. But the Wolverines regrouped and responded with just 4:28 left when junior defenseman Sam Piazza rifled a shot into the net off a pass from Kile.
The goal came during Michigan’s sixth power play of the game and proved to be the game-winner as LaFontaine made several crucial saves over the final few minutes to preserve the victory.
It may not have been pretty, but the result was nonetheless impressive for a young team that was repeatedly tested in a hostile environment.
“I can’t tell you this was a good road game in terms of our execution,” Berenson said. “As a coach, you look at too many shots against, too many outnumbered rushes, too many penalties and so on. We’ve got to get better every week, and tonight was a tough game to play, but our team stayed with it. We never got behind, and we found a way to win the game.”