For a hockey team loaded with NHL prospects, skilled puck maneuvers and flashy shots can make up much of the offense. But 23 games into the season, the No. 4 Michigan hockey team has fallen back on a much simpler strategy:
Letting it rip.
High-volume offense has become an integral component of the Wolverines’ success this season. Instead of looking for highlight-reel plays, they chip away at opposing defenses by consistently putting the puck on net.
And the results prove it. Michigan is 9-1 in games where it has totaled at least 35 shots this season, but only 7-5-1 in contests when it has failed to meet that threshold.
“At the end of the day, if you keep shooting the puck, eventually it’s most likely gonna end up going in,” junior forward Johnny Beecher said.
Executing a high-volume attack is vital for the Wolverines. Although Michigan is fourth in the nation in goals per game at 3.87, the difference between games is stark. The Wolverines average 5.1 goals per game when attempting 35 or more shots, but when they haven’t met that mark, their goals per game plummets to 2.9.
In recent series against teams that boast both skill and physicality, Michigan struggled to consistently mount the shot volume it needed. Unsurprisingly, its performances followed the same script. It breached 35 shots just once in a losing sweep to No. 13 Notre Dame and in a split with No. 8 Minnesota. It also failed to do so in a three-game stretch against No. 16 Ohio State and No. 19 Michigan Tech, and the Wolverines went 1-1-1 in that stretch, including a scoreless tie to the Huskies.
A pivotal series versus then-No. 10 Massachusetts, however, told a different story.
In arguably its most complete series of the season against one of its most difficult opponents thus far, Michigan attempted at least 41 shots in each game, outscoring the Minutemen 8-3. The Wolverines’ consistent volume remained ripe with high-quality shots, meaning Michigan regularly tested Massachusetts goaltender Matt Murray with dangerous looks.
“A lot of that is attributed to our puck possession game and our creativity,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We’re not necessarily a dump-and-chase team, so we make plays.”
The Wolverines’ sound offensive structure and puck control created more shot opportunities throughout the weekend. Over the first seven minutes of the second period in Michigan’s victory on Sunday, the Wolverines controlled the puck for practically the entire time.
They fired shot after shot, and a strong forecheck kept possession in the offensive zone. Sophomore forward Brendan Brisson scored a goal and Michigan outshot the Minutemen, 7-3, during the stretch that ultimately put the game away.
“We have good offensive structure and philosophies there,” Pearson said. “… We want to get pucks and people to the net.”
The Wolverines’ speed was also a key factor in combating Massachusetts’ physicality en route to a high-volume weekend. Fast skaters managed to avoid body checks to keep control of the puck and set up the offense. Freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich used his speed to put pressure on Minutemen defenders all weekend, while sophomore forward Kent Johnson out-skated defenders across the blue line and created odd-man rushes for his linemates.
“We play with a lot of speed, we play fast,” Pearson said. “ … We get (the puck) up quick so you catch them in transition and don’t allow them to set up in their structure, their trap, whatever it might be.”
Of Michigan’s final six series of the regular season, four will include matchups with goaltenders ranked top 15 in the nation in save percentage. In order to find success, it’s paramount that the Wolverines adhere to their magic formula: beating their opponents with speed, controlling the puck with the forecheck and spraying the goalies with shots.
Or, in other words, letting it rip.