ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s never an easy task to beat a team five times in one season.
The Michigan hockey team has now done so twice in the past two seasons.
After accomplishing it to Wisconsin a year ago, the seventh-ranked Wolverines (13-5-3-2 Big Ten, 23-7-5 overall) repeated their feat Friday afternoon, beating No. 19 Penn State for the fifth time this season in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament by a score of 7-2.
“We knew that playoff hockey was a different animal,” said junior forward JT Compher. “Knocking a team out and sending them home is something that’s hard to do. We knew we had to work hard and be more detailed.”
After sweeping the Nittany Lions (10-10-1-1, 20-13-4) last week by scores of 7-1 and 6-1, Michigan picked up right where it left off in the first period.
With just over 10 minutes gone in the game, sophomore forward Max Shuart collected his own rebound in front of the Penn State net and put it past Nittany Lion goaltender Eamon McAdam.
Six minutes later, the Wolverines doubled their lead when tic-tac-toe passing ended with junior forward Alex Kile knocking home his 16th goal of the season.
“We knew we had to get off to a good start,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We were fortunate to do that. Racine was great in the first period, and we capitalized on our chances.
“Not having played yesterday, I thought we’d be a little rusty. … But I thought we put our chances in.”
The second period was all Michigan, more specifically freshman forward Kyle Connor.
In the first nine minutes of the second period, Connor bagged himself a hat trick. His first goal came 48 seconds into the period when he dumped the puck into the Penn State zone, beat his man and ripped a shot past McAdam, all on the same play.
Connor’s second goal came on the power play, where he went untouched into the offensive zone and rifled the puck into the net.
Connor added another goal less than four minutes later to complete his hat trick off a pass from Compher, who had five assists himself.
“It’s been great playing with Kyle since we’ve been put together,” Compher said. “You saw all of the skillset that Kyle has, especially today, with two goals in the rush.”
Added Connor: “I think ever since we got put together, it’s just clicked. Our games complement each other pretty well.”
Penn State got a goal back on the power play from defenseman Kevin Kerr. But by then, the game was far out of reach for the Nittany Lions.
Goals in the third period came from Connor, senior forward Boo Nieves and Penn State defenseman Luka Juha to round out the scoring.
After letting in just two goals last weekend against Penn State, senior netminder Steve Racine was up to the task Friday once again. He made 37 saves in a strong effort.
Michigan lives to play another day in the Big Ten Tournament and will take on either Minnesota or Ohio State tomorrow night for the Big Ten championship trophy.
While either Minnesota or Ohio State will need to win tomorrow night to keep its season alive and advance to the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines have already earned an at-large bid, and a win tomorrow would be icing on the cake.
But that doesn’t mean Michigan won’t put any pressure on itself tomorrow night.
“We’re focused on coming here and getting two wins,” Compher said. “We’re not satisfied with one win. If we want to make a run in the postseason, and we have to finish off weekends like we did last weekend.”