If there is one thing to know about the Penn State hockey team, it is that it can score.
The 12th-ranked offensive powerhouse sends in, on average, four goals per game, and has seen just one occasion all season where it was unable to find the net.
In light of this, Michigan may have been anxiously anticipating the start of its third period Friday night, as the Nittany Lions were still scoreless while the Wolverines led by just one.
“Beginning of the third period, I was starting to get a little nervous,” said sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne. “You just kind of get antsy that (the puck) is going to take a bad hop and kind of ruin it for you.”
But Friday night, this apprehension would be unnecessary. Penn State’s attack never found its typical spark just as Michigan’s offense began to heat up.
Tacking on three more goals in the final period of play, the 20th-ranked Wolverines (6-7-2-1 Big Ten, 11-10-2 overall) derailed the most threatening offense in the nation, shutting out the Nittany Lions (6-6-3-2, 13-9-3), 4-0, at Yost Ice Arena.
Lavigne played an instrumental role in victory, making 34 saves on the night en route to his and the team’s second shutout of the season.
“You can see his confidence,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “And then you win a couple games, and you gain confidence. He’s playing up in the crease more, he’s out of his net more, he’s tracking the puck better … he’s sharp and you get in the zone, you’ll hear that all the time.”
Both teams set a quick tempo right from the puck drop, with speedy skating and physicality similar to the atmosphere present in their earlier meeting this season.
Just over two minutes into play, Michigan turned the puck over in the defensive zone, leading Penn State to gain its first dangerous scoring opportunity, just over two minutes into play.
The Wolverines would be first to go on the power play, as Penn State’s Alec Marsh was sent to the box for tripping just 3:39 into the game. However, Michigan was unable to execute on their advantage, and the Nittany Lions found their close to the net even with a man down just as the penalty clock was running out.
Minutes later, the nation’s top offensive unit began to show off its talents, firing five viable shots at Lavigne within the course of a minute. The netminder remained unfazed, standing tall between the pipes to block each puck that came his way.
The Wolverines would see their next shot at scoring with a man-advantage midway through the period, this time with Penn State called for slashing. And despite a mostly sloppy power-play in which the puck remained carelessly in Michigan’s defensive zone, the Wolverines capitalized just after the penalty came to a close. Receiving a pass just beyond the crease from sophomore forward Jake Slaker, freshman forward Josh Norris sent a blast to the bottom shelf of the Penn State net. Though Norris’ rocket was stopped by Nittany Lion goaltender Peyton Jones, the puck escaped, allowing for freshman forward Jack Becker to tap it in for the first goal of the game.
Despite Penn State’s fierce offensive efforts in the period — the Nittany Lions outshot the Wolverines over the span — it was unable to find the net. Michigan went to its locker room with an early one-goal lead, a factor that was key to the Wolverines’ standout sweep in Minnesota last weekend.
After the intermission, Penn State presented the first real threat of the period five minutes in, as Nittany Lion forward James Robinson broke away with the puck in Michigan’s defensive zone. Robinson, with no Wolverine blueliner in his way, challenged Lavigne one-on-one, and the netminder made a major save to keep his team in the lead.
Just about halfway into the period, Michigan had an opportunity to widen the gap, keeping the puck in Penn State’s zone while firing a flurry of on-target shots at Jones. Though none broke through, just a minute later the Wolverines went on yet another power-play, but their efforts during the advantage were again ineffectual.
With 4:48 remaining in the second period, Michigan suffered its first penalty of the game as freshman forward Mike Pastujov was sent to the box for hooking. The Wolverines cleanly executed with a man-down, clearing the puck to the opposite end of the ice on more than one occasion.
After Michigan killed the penalty, the teams remained fairly even, and the Wolverines maintained their edge heading into the final period of play.
Urgency was apparent on both sides of the puck over the first half of the third period, with Penn State looking to equalize the game and Michigan trying to add to its lead.
At 10:38, the Wolverines showed that their newly-discovered depth could again come in handy. Michigan’s fourth line pounced off a faceoff, with Becker knocking in his second goal of the game to provide the Wolverines with a two-goal safety net.
“(Becker) is just playing strong,” Pearson said. “And he’s getting to the net. He’s a big body, and he’s pretty good around the net with both his goals … and he’s there, and good for him, he’s not afraid to get to those greasy areas.”
Four minutes later, Norris — acclimating well to his new position at the wing — again took a feed from Slaker, this time successfully setting the puck in the net, giving Michigan even more insurance with its third goal.
To top things off, junior forward Brendan Warren added on an empty net goal, allowing the Wolverines to finish off the game with a four-goal advantage.
Michigan’s third period goals demonstrated the team’s aforementioned depth, with contributions coming from the second and fourth line, something Pearson emphasized as a key to the Wolverines’ recent holistic success.
“You know, our team is starting to figure it out,” Pearson said. “And we’re starting to play as a team. We’re getting contributions from a lot of different guys, and it all starts with Hayden Lavigne … he gives our team confidence.”