DETROIT — Nick Blankenburg extended his two hands out and wagged them up and down like paws. At first glance, it seemed like an innocent gesture. His teammates even imitated him as they wrapped him in hugs of celebration.
But the message from his mouth matched the motion of his arms in a more crude way.
“Sit down,” he told the Michigan State portion of the crowd at Little Caesars Arena.
The only problem was he and the Michigan hockey team gave the audience little reason to sit quietly in their seats in a 4-1 win over Michigan State on Monday night.
Blankenburg had just scored a goal, the third of the night for the Wolverines, in a highlight-reel fashion. In the second period, Michigan drew a power play, and after an unsuccessful first shift, switched to their primary unit. Blankenburg got the puck at the blue line and slung a bullet high. And the top-shelf snipe rang off the post and into the net.
Only a few stayed in their seats.
“We had timely scoring,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I give Michigan State a lot of credit. … They’re a tough team to play against when you get behind them. We were fortunate, again, to play with the lead.”
The Wolverines had built that lead much earlier in the game, going back to five minutes into the first period. Lockwood corralled the puck in the defensive and pushed down central ice. The line out on the ice was desperate for a change, but that’s not what Lockwood had in mind.
There were two Spartans in front of him — one to the left and one to his right.
He beat both of them to the slot. He snapped his wrist, looking only at the net.
A strong start was what Michigan coach Mel Pearson had wished for before the game, and as it was, his wish was granted: Lockwood scored on his one-man breakaway into traffic. Graduate transfer forward Jacob Hayhurst added to the early scoring with a power play goal from Lockwood and Slaker later in the first.
The start wasn’t without its caveats, however. A minute after Lockwood’s opening goal, the Spartans answered with a two-on-one rush.
Senior defenseman Griffin Luce was conducting the transition defense, but as he started to commit to the puck handler, Spartan Adam Goodsir, he failed to notice Goodsir’s pass to the open man, Dennis Cesana. Sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann had also committed on Goodsir and was unable to do anything to stop Cesana’s open-net shot.
It was the only mistake of the night for Mann, though the second period gave him plenty of chances to make another.
Michigan State had a game-high 13 shots in the second and there were plenty of saves to be made, of all difficulties. Two point-blank shots in the crease forced Mann to make high-degree saves. Minutes later, the Spartans had a Grade-A open shot, but Mann stuck out his stick at the last second to deflect it. The puck bounced off his helmet, and teetered the goal line before freshman forward Nolan Moyle cleared it.
“I don’t know how it stayed out, honestly,” Lockwood said. “He does that at practice day in and day out, so we’re kind of used to it at this point. But you see it live like that, it’s pretty spectacular.”
Mann had played what Pearson had called his best game of the second half of the season. But as stout as Michigan was defensively, it was equally so on offense. And they hammered that point home in the third period.
A minute into the frame, Luce stopped the puck at the point and shot. It was unclear if Lockwood was there willingly, to screen or to try and top the shot, but he did both anyways. He held the flat of his stick to face the twine, and as the puck reached his stick, the shot was redirected. The puck slowly slipped between the goaltender’s blockers and to the back of the net.
Lockwood skated to the side. He had already raised his stick with one hand, but with the other, he swung upwards, motioning for all to rise. But there was no need. Everyone was already up.