KALAMAZOO — All it took was five minutes for Western Michigan to dictate a game.
Five minutes to set the pace. Five to dominate the ice. Five minutes to create a lead the Michigan hockey team would spend the remaining 55 trying to overcome, ultimately to no avail.
“From faceoff to forecheck, to getting pucks out, to getting pucks to the net, to getting pucks through,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson, “they put on a clinic in that first five minutes.”
And it was in those first few minutes that the Wolverines’ 4-1 loss was decided. Despite the initial faceoff win to open the game, Michigan (3-2-1) was beat on the three following consecutive draws. This forced the pressure on the Wolverines to defend in their own zone, and unprepared for the rapid-fire attack, conceded a goal a minute into the game on a tipped pass high in the air.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Pearson said. “We talked about the game, about the first five minutes being really important, and (we) weren’t ready to play tonight. They were hungrier than we were at the start of the game, and we got in a hole.”
And that hole only got bigger as Western Michigan (2-3-1) refused to give up the pressure. Two minutes after letting one in, another was scored off a rebound passed out wide. Michigan had defended the initial shot, but after Strauss Mann pushed the puck out to his left, a Bronco player waited and reacted accordingly, shooting the puck past the sophomore goaltender.
It was a start that exemplified how passive the Wolverines had played to that point. They couldn’t create any offensive pressure, refusing to forecheck and were subjected to relentless attacks throughout the period. The minute they entered the offensive zone with the puck, the players were met with clashing sticks and poke checks, and simply gave the puck up.
“We just did not create much pressure on them for the most part,” Pearson said. “This was the most shots we’ve given up in back-to-back games, I’m going to say since I’ve been the coach at Michigan.
“Nobody wants to go forecheck, we’re looking around for somebody else to go forecheck or we just do one man and they just had two defensemen, they bump it to the other guy and then they’re out. We’ve just gotta look at that and do a better job.”
The only real threat Michigan posed early was from the power play. To end the first period, sophomore Jimmy Lambert drew a power play after being checked in the back. The team didn’t see the result of the man-advantage until after the intermission, where it looked to rectify its poor start. And for a moment, it looked like it did.
Senior forward Will Lockwood shot a wrister into the top-left shelf after freshman forward Emil Ohrwall drew the defense to him. He then dumped it off to a waiting Lockwood. It was a moment of relief for a team that had failed to compile any complete offensive push to that point.
“We got it to 2-1 as the second period started, and I thought we’d be fine,” Pearson said.
The moment of relief was soon broken after senior forward Nick Pastujov committed an interference penalty. With the man advantage, Western Michigan shot the puck from the slot, having it ding off the right post before hitting the left and sliding in.
“If you give them enough chances, if we get running around a little bit, they’re going to take advantage of that,” said senior defenseman Luke Martin. “The best penalty kill is no penalty kill. Stay out of the box. We need to do a better job than that and just limiting their chances off that.”
It was warranted advice after another power-play goal, one scored in the dying seconds game to further cemented how insurmountable that early deficit was.
“We’re gonna have to settle for some more simple plays,” Martin said. “And I think we did that as the game went on. But like I said, the start is everything.