MADISON — As Michigan’s power-play unit scampered onto the ice late in the second period, it recognized the importance of the two minutes that would follow.
A sluggish start on the road from the Wolverines had given way to a game that was even in pretty much every way. Converting on this power play would give Michigan the lead entering the third period, while failure would give the Badgers a momentum boost for the final stretch.
In that moment, the freshmen stepped up. Forward Thomas Bordeleau received a pass at the point, skated toward the goal and delivered an incisive cross-crease pass to forward Brendan Brisson. The one-timer thundered into the back of the net, a decisive turning point in the Wolverines’ 5-2 win at La Bahn Arena on Thursday night.
Despite the 5-2 score, Wisconsin (2-1) actually controlled the pace of play for most of the first period. For the most part, Michigan (3-0) was out of sync early — it struggled to clear the puck out of its defensive end and couldn’t connect on passes in the offensive zone. That disconnect allowed the Badgers to jump to a 1-0 lead late in the first period after forward Josh Ess buried a wrister from outside the slot.
“I thought we had some difficulty coming out of the zone tonight,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “ … We have to clean some things up there on the breakout. When the defensemen come right down the wall on you and pinch those wingers off, it really makes it difficult for our wingers to get the puck, handle the puck and make a good play, and we had some turnovers because of that.”
In the second period, senior forward Michael Pastujov equalized for the Wolverines off another feed from Bordeleau behind the goal. Still, Wisconsin remained in the game for most of the period. It wasn’t until Brisson’s power-play goal — and a follow-up goal from sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini just before the period ended — that Michigan was really in control of the game.
The power play remained crucial for the Wolverines all night. After the Badgers pulled within one early in the third period, another Michigan power play resulted in a goal from sophomore forward Johnny Beecher just 15 seconds in — a score that effectively put the game to bed.
Part of what made the Wolverines so effective on the man advantage was the sheer amount of talent they had on the ice. Bordeleau, for example, is quickly developing into one of the team’s best passers, and his style complements Brisson, who flexed his shooting ability on his one-timer goal.
Junior forward Jimmy Lambert brings more passing ability to the unit — evidenced by his no-look assist from behind the net on Beecher’s goal — and sophomore defenseman Cam York brings a viable blue line threat as one of the Big Ten’s top offensive defensemen. It’s a lot easier to score on the man advantage when the unit flows so well.
“I think we were just doing our jobs,” Beecher said. “I think we got moving around a bit, kind of confused them there. And we were getting pucks on net. … Things were just kind of clicking tonight, and hopefully we can carry that into tomorrow.”
Michigan’s slow start represented its first real bout with adversity this season. There will be plenty more; the Big Ten is a deep conference, and there will be a lot of games played on only a few days of rest.
But if Thursday is any indication, the Wolverines shouldn’t worry too much about playing from behind. Despite their youth, they’ve already shown their ability to respond to setbacks.
And their power play will probably be central to that ability for weeks to come.
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