Mel Pearson sat at the back of Yost Ice Arena after an October win again St. Lawrence, content with the Michigan hockey team's victory.
But beyond that, he still had a goal in mind.
“We want to be the least (penalized) team in the country,” Pearson said. “ … If we can do that, we continue to keep it three or under power plays a game, we’re going to be in good shape.”
But since Dec. 30, the Wolverines have only had less than three penalties in a game once. Though that hasn’t always stopped Michigan from picking up wins, frustration penalties are an easy — and completely avoidable — way to tilt the balance of a game right into another team’s favor.
In the Wolverines’ 5-2 loss at Notre Dame on Tuesday, senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi helplessly watched a third-period shot from the blue line come to a halt in an empty crease, with no teammates there to clean it up. But shortly after watching that wasted opportunity, he got called for interference. Only a minute after that penalty ended, Cecconi sulked back to the box after hitting a Notre Dame player. And 36 seconds after Cecconi got out of the box for a second time, sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes kept the seat warm with a slashing penalty of his own.
“You can get angry because they don’t give up much, and when they do give up much, you don’t score and you get a little angrier,” Cecconi said. “And it can slide out the wrong, but I felt like yesterday was one of the one times this season that it happened, usually we don’t take those.”
Frustration — and a feeling of unfairness — on both a micro and a macro-level isn’t anything new for the Wolverines. In games against Michigan State and Minnesota, they saw 45-plus shot attempts yield to nothing but a loss.
And though Michigan has yet to replicate their 17-penalty weekend from Lake Superior State, 13 in two games against Minnesota recently and six against the Fighting Irish point to more than an abundance of necessary, commonplace fouls.
“When I mean selfish I mean — I don’t say that outward about the team, but they let their emotions get the best of them in that situation,” Pearson said. “When I say a selfish penalty I don’t mean protecting a goal or helping a teammate in some situation. It’s just a bad penalty.
“… We were playing a pretty good game. I think there were some non-calls against us on penalties. I think their guys were going down easy, we were playing strong, and I think that’s part of it. You get frustrated like Quinn at the end there. You can get slashed three times and they don’t call it, and then he says ‘OK, I’ll slash him back’ and they call it.”
If Michigan can tighten that up it may well stay alive longer than conventional logic might dictate. But if it doesn’t? It might find itself in a tight box come March.