The first two matchups between the Michigan hockey team and No. 15 Penn State resulted in a total of 23 goals scored.
In turn, Michigan coach Mel Pearson shifted his focus to defense — something he had emphasized all season. But for Thursday’s matchup especially, he made clear that he wanted to see the team protect the net better.
And after a scoreless first period, the game plan showed. From start to finish, the Wolverines made junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s night easier throughout the period — and the game, one that ended in a 5-1 win for Michigan. Though the Nittany Lions had 32 shot attempts and 15 on target in the first period alone, few of them were high-quality looks.
Michigan blocked nine shots and held Penn State’s only power play of the period to zero shots. It wasn’t until the dying minutes of the period that Penn State had a clean look on net, which was stopped by Lavigne after a barrage of shots.
Offensively, the Wolverines were held to a low-shot count — seven.
“I thought our first period was a little slow,” said junior forward Jake Slaker. “After a week off, it’s tough. I thought they were a little more ready for the start of the game, just looking at the shots, they had 15, we had seven. Then the rest of the game, we took over.”
The second period saw the Wolverines’ offensive aggression pay off. Sophomore Dakota Raabe made a sprint to the offensive zone. The majority of both teams were still in Michigan’s defensive zone, but freshman forward Jimmy Lambert saw Raabe in the neutral zone and shot a push forward. The pass landed perfectly at Raabe’s stick as he staked into the zone, with only one defender trailing him.
The one-on-one confrontation was too much for the inexperienced Oskar Autio — who was starting his first collegiate game. Raabe cut right, but smacked a backhanded shot into the net to break open the scoring.
“Usually for left-handers coming down the left, it’s kind of a standard move a lot of guys do –– forehand, backhand, five-hole,” Raabe said. “So, that’s kind of what I was going for.”
And from there, the goals started to rain in for the Wolverines. Scoring four goals in a period against Penn State isn’t new. Michigan has done it twice in the previous two meetings. But this time, there was a defense to back it up.
“Our guys did the simple things. We got to the net,” Pearson said. “We stopped in front of the net. Pucks and people to the net and we competed there. We haven’t done a lot of — first period, we didn’t do any of that. If you look at the shot chart, everything’s off to the side. There’s nothing from in front. You look at the second period, we’re getting to the net.”
With the Nittany Lions’ offense unable to start up, the Wolverines’ offense took over. A little over halfway through the period, they scored three goals in under a minute to create the separation they haven't been able to all season.
Lambert battled against the boards and came up clean with the puck. He cut toward the net where he saw Slaker waiting at the opposite side of the net unguarded. The passing game and the goal followed.
“Jimmy made a great play to me,” Slaker said, “And I was just kind of sitting there, wide open, so I just had to do my job as soon as he got it to me.”
Leaving little time for celebration, senior Nicholas Boka scored a goal 14 seconds after. Penn State made a bad pass in the defensive zone that led to freshman Nick Blankenberg stealing the puck. He took the puck to the net but failed to convert. Boka, however, was in the right place to clean it up. He curled around towards the right of the net, where the rebound had leaked, and hit a low shot that went past Autio.
Thirty-eight seconds after that, Lockwood scored his ninth goal of the season. He initially shot on net and a fight in traffic ensued. The puck leaked out back to where Lockwood lied in wake, and he converted on the distracted goalie.
The period was the breakout Michigan looked to have all season, and the momentum stayed until the ending seconds of the second period. A breakaway by the Nittany Lions forced senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi to take a roughing penalty to stop the Penn State skater from converting.
The penalty bled into the third period, but Michigan had no problems with the penalty kill, a consistent trait for the team all season.
The Wolverines drew a power play of their own, after junior defenseman Luke Martin got slashed clearing the puck. The man-advantage ended with a few high-quality chances for both sides but no goal. However, minutes after, senior forward Brendan Warren hooked a players leg to prevent a breakaway.
Right as the penalty ended, Penn State scored a goal. A Nittany Lion skater centered a pass, but it deflected off of Boka’s skate and in between Lavigne’s legs that ended what would have been Lavigne’s second shut out of the year.
“Just in control. He just looks calm in the net, keeps things simple, doesn’t overreact,” Pearson said. “But he’s competing. He’s really working hard to compete on every shot”
Nick Pastujov committed a penalty that put Penn State on the power place again. Down three, the Nittany Lions opted to pull their goaltender for the 6-on-4 advantage. However, freshman forward Garrett Van Wyhe gained a rebound at the blue line and took a long look at the net. With no one around him to contest the shot, he sealed the game with an empty netter.
“I think for us, we were focused on defense more,” Slaker said. “And our defense led to our offense tonight. When we keep them to one goal that gives us a pretty good opportunity to win a game every game. So if we can do that night in and night out, as long as we get two (goals), that’s a win.”