For the second straight game, the No. 20 Michigan hockey team denied No. 12 Penn State’s offense — ranked the best in the nation with four goals per game coming into the weekend — quality chances throughout most of the evening.
For the second time in as many nights, Jack LaFontaine skated out to fellow sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne to give him a bear hug as the final horn sounded.
And for the second consecutive weekend, the Wolverines (7-7-2-1 Big Ten, 12-10-2 overall) headed into the dressing room and sang “The Victors” — a sign of a weekend sweep — after avoiding a late disaster and defeating the Nittany Lions (6-7-3-2, 13-10-3), 3-2, Saturday night.
“I’m really proud of our players, they found a way to win the game,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We came a little unglued there, we didn’t play the situation with the extra attacker at the end very well.
“… But overall, great weekend. … We’ve been on the other end where we’ve felt that we should’ve done better for us this year, so it all evens out. But great effort, great win for our team.”
It took just 26 seconds into regulation for Michigan to strike first. After an odd-man rush for Penn State to open the game, the Wolverines broke out of their defensive zone with a three-on-one counterattack.
Junior forward Brendan Warren found a streaking Josh Norris down the middle of the ice, and the new linemates didn’t miss a beat. The freshman forward took the puck and buried a one-timer for his second goal in as many contests, putting Michigan on the board first.
After a dominant 4-0 victory Friday night, the Wolverines picked up right where they left off, firing on all cylinders early. Michigan easily entered its offensive zone, maintained control of the puck and quickly stifled Nittany Lion opportunities on the other end of the ice.
Halfway through the opening period, Penn State was called for interference, and the Wolverines found themselves on the power play for the first time. After going 0-for-4 with the man advantage the previous night, Michigan made sure its golden opportunity wouldn’t go to waste this time around.
With 34 seconds left on the power play, and after a handful of quality chances, senior forward Dexter Dancs received a pass from junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi in front of the net and stuffed it past goaltender Peyton Jones’ right pad to double the lead.
The Nittany Lions had a power play of their own with three minutes to go in the first period, but Lavigne stood tall between the pipes to make some key saves — including one with the toe of his skate — and keep the two-goal advantage intact.
The second period began with Penn State knocking on the doorstep, with multiple scoring chances in the opening minutes. And less than six minutes into the stanza, sophomore defenseman Griffin Luce was called for interference, giving the Nittany Lions another opportunity to tack on their first goal of the weekend.
But again, timely saves from Lavigne — including seven on the ensuing penalty kill — protected the Wolverines’ lead. Despite being outshot 17 to eight, Lavigne’s mix of both routine and flashy saves, combined with solid play in the defensive zone, muted the powerhouse Penn State offense for the fifth straight period.
Lavigne would go on to make a career-high 43 saves on 45 shots, a feat Pearson chalked up to his netminder’s newfound confidence and composure in the crease.
“I thought we got away from our game in the second period and Hayden did a great job of keeping us in,” Pearson said. “… We had to rely too much on Hayden this weekend, especially tonight. He was the star of the game.
“He just looks like he’s so calm in the net and he’s in the zone. He made some great saves in that second period, you just shake your head. But when you’re on, you’re on.”
The third period started with back and forth play, with both teams creating similar scoring chances and their respective goaltenders making highlight-reel saves to continue the stalemate. Through the first ten minutes, Michigan narrowly outshot the Nittany Lions seven to six.
With 7:25 left in the final period, Luce was assessed a penalty for roughing, giving Penn State its third man advantage. However, 37 seconds later, forward Andrew Sturtz was called for goaltender interference after running into Lavigne, resulting in four-on-four play.
And with 12 seconds left of both sides being down a man, forward Dakota Raabe received a crisp outlet pass from junior defenseman Luke Martin and found himself on a breakaway. The freshman deked Jones and laid the puck into the back of the net for his first career goal and a bit of insurance — which seemingly all but solidified the win and weekend sweep for the Wolverines.
“(That was) a big goal from Dakota Raabe in a critical moment,” Pearson said. “It didn’t seem like it was a huge goal, but it ends up being the winning goal, so good for Dakota. We’re getting contributions from a lot of players now and that makes us a better team.”
Though down by three goals, Penn State and its deadly offense wouldn’t go away without putting up a fight. With 1:57 remaining in the game and an extra attacker for the Nittany Lions, forward Liam Folks tapped the puck into the net off an errant rebound to finally get Penn State on the board. Sixty-four seconds later, defenseman Kris Myllari snuck a shot under the crossbar to cut the deficit to one with just 53 seconds to go.
But as was the case throughout the entire weekend, Lavigne made his presence known in net as the final seconds ticked off the clock and three blocked shots in the last minute preserved the win — and the sweep.
“You just have to stay calm in that moment,” Lavigne said. “Obviously, that’s not the swing you want to see when you’re up 3-0, especially not against a team like that, but we know they can score and they put the puck to the net.
“But when that happened, we all just took a deep breath and I don’t think they got another shot after it was 3-2. We locked it down defensively and paid the price to win.”