UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Jacob Hayhurst slid into the slot and waited.
The graduate transfer forward saw sophomore forward Nolan Moyle with the puck, and he knew he was wide open for a shot on net. Moyle sent a pass up to Hayhurst, who didn’t hesitate as he released a shot that cleanly beat Penn State goaltender Oskar Autio.
Hayhurst’s goal — his third of the season, and just his second at even strength — tied Saturday’s game at three goals apiece in the third period. As soon as the puck hit the back of the net and the goal lamp lit up, he turned toward Michigan’s bench, kicked his leg in the air and emphatically pumped his fists twice.
It was a celebration that reflected the exorcism of some demons that have plagued Hayhurst this year. He’s caught the post numerous times in recent weeks — and Michigan coach Mel Pearson picked him up as a transfer because of his offensive ability.
But Saturday night, he found the back of the net on the way to a 4-4 tie and the extra Big Ten point in double overtime for the Wolverines (10-11-3 overall, 5-7-2-1 Big Ten) over No. 6 Penn State (16-7-1, 8-5-1-0).
“He makes things happen,” Pearson said. “He makes the players around him better. Plays on the right side of the puck. Good for him to get rewarded tonight. He’s a grad senior. We expected more. … Sometimes I guess it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Added Hayhurst: “It was really nice when you’re kind of battling back the entire game. To finally bring it back to even and get a little momentum with the team, I think it was awesome. I think that helped lead us to a victory in the end.”
And while Hayhurst exorcised his offensive demons, the Wolverines exorcised some of their own. They got into a 2-0 hole early in the second period and looked to be completely without momentum. Then slowly, they climbed back into contention.
“Tonight, when it was 2-0, a lot of things were not going our way, and I think it was really important to stay within it,” Pearson said. “One shot. We talked about, ‘We’re one shot. We’re one shot away from getting back in the game.’ ”
A goal from Moyle made it 2-1 barely a minute after the Nittany Lions made it 2-0. Freshman forward Nick Granowicz made it 2-2 before the second period was over. Penn State came back to take the lead late in the period, but Michigan kept pressuring.
Hayhurst tied things up six minutes into the third, and Granowicz tallied his second of the night to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead just a few minutes later. Michigan spent the rest of the third period shutting Penn State down to preserve the lead.
Then the Nittany Lions pulled Autio for an extra attacker with two minutes left, and everything changed.
Forward Evan Barratt fired a shot that beat sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann with just 1:22 left to play to tie the game and send it to overtime.
“The only disappointing thing, though, tonight, was we had the lead,” Pearson said. “We had the lead and they scored the extra-man goal.”
But with 12 seconds left in three-on-three double overtime, sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe found the puck on his stick with no one in front of him.
His wrister flipped up over Autio’s shoulder, and while the rest of the building went silent, there was an explosion on Michigan’s bench. The goal exorcised the demons of close but not quite, of being right there and just missing.
The roar was somehow almost louder than the whole Penn State crowd put together. It was the roar of a team, finally putting it all together.
All of a sudden, Michigan has become the kind of team that can go play road series at ranked teams two weekends in a row and take 11 of the 12 possible points. All of a sudden, the Wolverines have put themselves back in the conversation for home ice in the Big Ten tournament.
Their early struggles keep them out of the NCAA Tournament conversation, at least for an at-large bid. A Big Ten Tournament title and an autobid is a long way away at this point, but it’s starting to seem possible in a way it didn’t in November.
“We had a lot of breaks go against us, but now we’re finding ways to win games. Earlier we were finding a way to lose games,” Pearson said. “This team has really come together, and that’s exciting to see.
“As a coach, it’s almost to the point where you just let them go and stay out of the way, because they’re pulling the train right now.”