As sophomore forward Brendan Brisson skated toward the right faceoff dot, his eyes commanded the offense.
Cradling a pass from sophomore defenseman Owen Power, he spied sophomore forward Kent Johnson with space on the opposite side. With a graceful pass sewn between Bowling Green’s penalty killers, he found Johnson and created yards of space as the Falcons adjusted.
Brisson inched further away from his man, his stick cocked back from his favorite spot. Two quick passes later, Brisson found the back of the net on a blistering one-timer just 11 seconds into the power play.
Michigan’s special teams showed two sides in Saturday’s exhibition against Bowling Green. The Wolverines’ speed and awareness managed the flow of the game on the power play, but the penalty kill allowed the Falcons to generate scoring opportunities.
While Michigan earned two chances on the man advantage, the aforementioned Brisson goal left the Wolverines with 2:11 minutes of ice time to learn what their power play could do. In that time, however, Michigan kept control of the puck and left Bowling Green struggling to stay in position.
The Wolverines used their offensive talent effectively by passing the puck around the ice, opening up space and looking for a break in the Falcons’ structure. Looking for Brisson’s trademarked one-timer, Michigan kept its passing lanes open with quick skating and positioning adjustments.
“When you’ve got four other guys that move the puck like they do, it’s pretty easy to get open,” Brisson said. “And once the puck gets to me, it’s kind of up to me to put it in the net or make a play from there.”
Shots came often with this setup, but the Wolverines doubled down on their efforts by chasing Bowling Green’s skaters to the puck. Using its physical presence — well-established earlier in the game — Michigan’s forwards often crashed into the boards and caused chaos on the puck. Coupled with the Wolverines’ speed, these pressures led to many hard rebounds ending up back on the tape of a Michigan stick.
Offensive vision helped the Wolverines utilize the resulting possessions. Bowling Green’s energy faded as shots kept coming, and small seams emerged in its coverage. Power and senior defenceman Nick Blankenburg utilized these gaps to thread passes to open wingers for high-danger shots.
But while Michigan’s power play showed its skill in managing rebounds, its penalty kill struggled to do the same. Playing shorthanded thrice, the Wolverines fell victim to many of the same issues that plagued the Falcons.
On the first two penalty kills, Michigan’s skaters focused on closing down shot angles and giving sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo a chance to play the puck. The strategy worked — the Wolverines didn’t allow a goal on any kill — but it allowed Bowling Green to set up an attack with the puck for long periods of time. The Falcons only earned five shots on those kills, but they took far more shots that wound up wide of the net.
“In practice the guys have been extremely aggressive, and tonight I don’t know if there’s some indecision or some communication problems, where they should be on the ice,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I didn’t like how easily we let Bowling Green get into our zone. They came up from behind with some speed and we got standing still a little bit.”
Michigan’s defenders started clearing the puck more during the third kill, and a bright spot emerged. Its physical presence from forechecking skaters caused mistakes in Bowling Green’s zone.
But the threat of shorthanded shots didn’t detract from the Wolverines’ problems taking the puck back from the Falcons. Bowling Green forwards like Austen Swankler, one of its best shooters, earned plenty of chances. Michigan could only watch as they fired in Portillo’s direction.
The Wolverines knew that facing the Falcons would be more about gauging where they stack up against aggressive opponents. Michigan’s power play controlled the game when it took the ice, but the penalty kill showed flaws in its ability to limit opposing attacks.