On Saturday afternoon, Michigan hockey had no trouble getting the puck to the net.
The final score of the season opener against Arizona State was 8-1, creating an almost comical contrast with coach Mel Pearson’s offensive outlook from a couple weeks ago:
“I’m just not sure where we’re going to score,” Pearson said on Oct. 26. “I feel really good defensively where last year I think I was the opposite — I thought we would score, but I wasn't sure how good we were going to be defensively.”
Maybe Pearson didn’t know where on the roster the offensive production would come from because it was so evenly spread throughout the team. Freshman forward Matty Beniers was the only player to score twice — in the first and last periods of the game.
“We have a lot of guys that know what to do with a puck around the net,” Pearson said.
While most eyes were on the exalted freshman class, goals came from all parts of the roster. Last season’s consistent scorers like sophomore defensemen Cam York and Nick Blankenburg but also from less frequently touted sources like second-line junior forward Nolan Moyle and third-line sophomore forward Nick Granowicz.
Freshman forward Kent Johnson didn’t score himself but came out of the game with four assists.
“I thought, honestly, everyone had a really good game today,” Beniers said. “I didn't see anyone else out anyone out there just not playing their game.”
The Wolverines made a total of 57 shots, 37 of which were on goal — a product of consistent offensive possession that started as soon as the puck dropped.
While the first goal didn’t come until nearly eight minutes into the game, Michigan spent most of the first period in the offensive zone, forcing turnovers and racking up shots on goal.
Beniers turned that momentum into a goal halfway through the period. Once they were on the board, Michigan kept the energy going. Less than a minute later, sophomore forward Johnny Beecher capitalized on a power-play to put the Wolverines up by two.
At the end of the period, the Wolverines had taken 26 shots, over twice as many as the Sun Devils. The contrast is even more stark when you look at shots on goal — Michigan’s 15 to Arizona State’s five.
“We have to be a better puck possession team than we were last year,” Pearson said. “We have to control the puck and make sure we know where we’re putting it and force teams to play without it. I think that's the best way you defend the line that they had … is to force them to play without the puck and playing their own zone. So for the most part, I thought we did a pretty good job of that.”
Essentially, the best defense is a good offense. The old adage turned out to be true in this case — Arizona State had 19 fewer shots than Michigan, only one if which made it between the posts.
Once the Wolverines had that momentum, they didn’t let it shift. The goals just kept falling. Three minutes into the second frame, the Wolverine’s found the net again. And then again four minutes later. And once again with five minutes left. And one more time after that.
Still, even after an 8-1 win, there’s room for improvement in the offensive zone. As happy as it his with their performance, he hopes they can improve going into tomorrow’s contest.
“I think we held onto the puck at times too much,” Pearson said. “We didn’t head man the puck quick enough. We tried to make some high risk plays in danger zones. We got a little cute with the puck instead of chipping it in at times.
“… I’m a perfectionist, I want to perfect every game and to watch where we're putting the puck and managing the game. And we will get better there.”