Ferris State forward Lucas Finner took the puck away from Jake Slaker, sped down the ice and fired it right through the five-hole to bring the Bulldogs within one goal of Michigan just 33 seconds into the second period.
The Wolverines controlled possession up to that point and had carved out the best opportunities of the first period. But the scoreboard now told a different story. Ferris State, which has the worst offense in the country with an average of 1.5 goals per game, had scored twice in just 21 minutes.
However, a dominant first period and a furious third-period flurry was enough for the Michigan hockey team (5-2) to put away the Bulldogs, 7-2, in a game that was closer than the final score suggested.
The early dominance came from everywhere. Seven different players registered points in the first period, and the Wolverines put 16 shots on target compared to nine for Ferris State (2-6-1). They scored on both of their power plays to take a quick lead.
The first of these power plays came just two minutes after the initial faceoff. Junior defensemen Joseph Cecconi drilled a slap-shot goal from the faceoff spot after a series of crisp passing and movement around the Bulldogs’ goal.
Michigan caught an unfortunate break shortly thereafter. On a Ferris State power play, junior defenseman Nicholas Boka fell backwards behind his own net and lost control of the puck. Bulldog forward Mitch Maloney quickly jumped on the puck and laced a shot past sophomore goaltender Jack LaFontaine to tie the score.
“(Boka) just lost an edge,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “He had the puck, he was just trying to pivot and he went down, and we weren’t in position to back him up.”
Eager to prove that Ferris State’s goal was a fluke, the Wolverines wasted no time rebounding. Thirty-five seconds into Michigan’s second power play, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes fired a shot from the blue line. Hughes’ attempt was blocked, but the puck fell to sophomore forward Will Lockwood, who pushed it beyond the reach of Smith to put the Wolverines back ahead, 2-1.
Cooper Marody capped off the period with just over two minutes remaining. Senior forward Tony Calderone laid the puck off to Marody, and the junior forward skated into position and flicked a wrist shot into the top corner of the net.
But when Michigan came out of the tunnel after the first intermission, it seemed to have left this aggressiveness in the locker room.
Finner’s goal was followed by 19 minutes of sluggish hockey for the Wolverines. On a power play five minutes before intermission, Michigan failed to record a shot on goal — one less than Ferris State did during that stretch. The Wolverines were being solidly outplayed.
“We were constantly getting beat back up the ice,” Pearson said. “Their defense was jumping up in the play, creating some odd-number rushes and they were hitting that wide guy, and they got some good looks.”
Unable to pull away like it looked ready to do in the first period, Michigan now needed to simply stay in the game. The performance of LaFontaine, who made 10 saves in the period, was a huge reason why it did.
“It doesn’t always have to be a goal scored, it can be a great save, and I thought Jack provided that spark in the second period,” Pearson said. “(He) let us get into the locker room, settle things down a little bit, talk about some things.”
Despite this lift, the Wolverines’ sluggish play continued early in the third period, and frustrations appeared to boil over when Bulldog forward Andrew Mayer leveled sophomore defenseman Luke Martin in the Michigan zone. Hughes took offense to Mayer’s hit, and a bout of shoving ensued between the two.
The scrum resulted in a Michigan power play, as Mayer committed two penalties during the sequence. While the man advantage didn’t result in a goal, the Wolverines did appear to be energized again, as they won three faceoffs and fired four shots on goal.
And this energy eventually paid off. Thirty seconds after Ferris State returned to full strength, Marody deked to the left of Ferris State defenseman Ryker Killins and shot from the edge of the crease. While Smith made the initial save, he was helpless to stop Calderone, who skated in from the left and slipped the puck in behind him to give Michigan needed breathing room.
“Obviously that fourth goal was huge,” Pearson said. “I thought at that point it was going to be hard for them to come back.”
The Wolverines made sure that was the case. With five minutes remaining, Slaker bullied his way past a Bulldog defenseman near the boards and let fly from the left face-off circle, crisply finding the net.
Michigan showed no intentions of stopping, finding the same rhythm on offense that it showed during the game’s opening 20 minutes. Fifth-year senior forward Alex Roos lit the lamp to increase the lead to 6-2, and Slaker scored again only a minute later.
The Wolverines finished with a 51-30 advantage in shots, thanks to 26 shots in the third period. But these commanding statistics were marred by numerous errors on defense, especially during the second period, which kept the contest tighter than it should have been.
“It was a tight game,” Pearson said. “(There were) critical moments in the game where they get a great chance, they might make it 3-3 and the complex of the whole game changes. But I like how we stayed with it. I like how our team is staying in the moment and playing the full 60.
“(But we) got to be better. Too many mistakes, too many odd-numbered rushes. That’s something we’ll address later on.”