DURHAM, N.H. — After a successful penalty kill midway through the second period, junior forward Jack Becker stepped out of the penalty box and collected a pass near the blue line. With poise, he made his way to the left circle and fired a wrister into the corner of the net to give the Michigan hockey team a 3-1 lead against New Hampshire.
A two-goal lead is a position the Wolverines have been in earlier this season but have failed to capitalize. Against rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, Michigan gave up the margin in confidence-breaking losses.
Friday night’s affair, though, would end differently. Friday night, the Wolverines didn’t falter, holding on for a 4-1 win instead.
“Just understanding where we are at and what’s happened in the past,” said senior forward Will Lockwood. “That was the locker room talk — this game is a must win for us. We’ve been in this position a couple times before, so that’s what we talked about in the locker room, and I think we are really happy with the way we performed in the third.”
And Friday night, Michigan finally got some momentum going its direction.
The seven games leading up to the contest against the Wildcats marked a tough stretch for the Wolverines. They suffered six losses as well as a double-overtime game in which they left with just one point.
That all changed with seven minutes to go in the opening period in Durham, when freshman forward Johnny Beecher tallied a power play goal right in front of goaltender Mike Robinson to tie the game at one each. Till that point, Michigan had faced substantial pressure in its defensive zone. But after Beecher’s goal, the Wolverines set the tone.
“I think we started off a little bit slow,” Beecher said. “That has kind of been a little bit of a struggle for us throughout the year so far, is just coming out ready to play. Getting that goal and tying it up was huge for us. I definitely think it tipped the ice for us a little bit there and it was huge.”
After his goal, the players had fully adjusted to the Olympic ice, the penalty kill stayed staunch — holding New Hampshire scoreless a total of four times on the night — and the offense started to find its groove. Those were some of the factors that helped the Wolverines maintain the momentum within the game itself.
But what’s more, after Beecher’s goal, Michigan notched its first road win of the season and ended a phase of struggles. The team finally got some momentum going it’s way on the larger scale of the season, too.
“It’s huge,” Lockwood said. “In college hockey, momentum is really important. We’re going to celebrate for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, but we got to reset and get back to it because … ”
Michigan coach Mel Pearson interrupted, easing the mood: “A little more than that.”
Added Lockwood: “But yeah, we want to reset because our expectations are a little higher than what we’ve been doing lately. So yeah, that’s the biggest thing for us, is just focus on tomorrow.”
It’s just one game. The Wolverines still stand last in the Big Ten and have their work cut out to make something of this season.
But Pearson’s sentiment speaks for itself — it’s important to cherish the good breaks, the changing tides and the start of some momentum.