Michigan was outshot for the fourth straight game. It struggled on its power play opportunities and its faceoffs again. And yet the 11th-ranked Wolverines came away with a 4-3 victory.
Freshman forward Will Lockwood slapped in a pass from senior center Max Shuart with only a minute remaining to give Michigan the win on its third short-handed goal of the season. For the third straight game, the Wolverines looked to a freshman for late-game heroics. Last weekend, it was freshman center Jake Slaker. Friday night, it was Lockwood.
“When the game was on the line in the third, our team rallied,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Even though (Michigan Tech) tied the game on a weak goal on our part, our team rallied and played harder and gave ourselves a chance.”
Added Lockwood: “In the first two periods we were kind of slow. I think we’ve proved that we are a third-period team so far (in the season) and (so getting those) bounces going in the third definitely helped.”
For two periods, the Wolverines managed to contain Michigan Tech. Slaker scored his second goal of the night — Michigan’s only power-play goal in five attempts — to give his team a 3-1 lead. The Wolverines simply needed to maintain control of the puck and play solid defense for the next 15 minutes to earn a victory on a night in which they were outshot 34-27. With solid play from freshman goaltender Hayden Lavigne, the Wolverines seemed to be in a good position.
“We had a so-so start to the game,” Berenson said. “Our second period, even though we had the lead in the game, we were on our heels the whole time. I thought that Tech was a lot better than us in the second.”
With 15 minutes left in the third period, the Huskies’ dormant offense erupted. Just 27 seconds after Michigan finished celebrating Slaker’s goal, Michigan Tech center Alex Smith scored off a pass from left wing Chris Leibinger, who stood behind the net. Then, four minutes later, Lavigne had the opportunity to ice the puck but didn’t, giving Michigan Tech right wing Reid Sturos the chance to poke it in. The Wolverines two-goal lead quickly faded from memory.
Meanwhile, Slaker served as Michigan’s offensive catalyst, picking up where he left off last week when he earned a Big Ten Star of the Week. He scored two goals and led the Wolverines in shots on goal with four. His first goal came when he rebounded a long shot by senior defenseman Nolan De Jong which bounced off the right-handed glove of Michigan Tech netminder Devin Kero. Slaker happened to be standing beside the goaltender and knocked the second chance past Kero.
In the second period, the Wolverines jumped out to a two-goal lead as junior right wing Tony Calderone — surrounded by three Husky defenders — shot the puck right past Kero’s glove for his first goal of the season.
Lavigne continued his strong play in the crease, finishing with a career-high 31 saves. Though he allowed three goals, Berenson still seemed encouraged by his performance, with the exception of Lavigne’s one mishap.
“You want a goalie to make the saves that he should make, and I thought he did that tonight,” Berenson said. “He mishandled the one puck that gave them the goal, and goals are precious.
“We have to be better, I thought, in all parts of our game.”
Michigan Tech scored its first goal after Michigan struggled to break through on a power play in the second period. A long clearance from Kero sent the puck to the Wolverines blue line. Here, Husky forward Dylan Steman sent a pass to teammate Alex Gilles, who hit it past Lavigne to decrease the deficit to one goal, the first short-handed attempt Michigan allowed this season.
Friday’s game between intrastate rivals also kept the intensity high, with both teams throwing punches and elbows and spending a total of 18 minutes in the penalty box. According to Slaker, the teams play a similar style — perhaps because of Michigan Tech’s coach, former Wolverines’ assistant Mel Pearson.
“We both like to play that kind of gritty, fast game,” Slaker said. “And it ended up being both teams playing the same style and going head to head.”
Now in its third win on the season, Michigan has learned to take advantage of its impressive luck. Two of the Wolverines’ three wins have been decided in the final frame. No game, though, as late as Lockwood’s goal.
Michigan relinquished a two-goal lead in the final period, but somehow, as it has for the third straight game, the puck kept bouncing in Michigan’s favor in the series opener.
“I think we were lucky to win the game,” Berenson said. “But it was a great second-effort play by Max Shuart on the shorthanded goal and then a great play by Will Lockwood.
“We feel good about the win, but we feel we have to play a lot better.”