Few numbers speak louder for a defense than a shutout and one-goal-conceding game.
Over the weekend, the Michigan hockey team swept St. Lawrence, winning 3-0 and 3-1 Friday and Saturday night, respectively. The wins came in large part due to its resurgent defense.
“I think the last couple games, we gave up, I don’t know the exact number, but I think it was around 20 goals,” said sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes. “So obviously, it’s not good enough if we want to win. I think one of the main focus points coming into this weekend was cleaning up our defensive game, and I think we did a really good job with that this weekend.”
A good job might be putting it lightly. Having turned the ship around, the Wolverines’ united defense played earnestly, a welcoming display for fans after letting five goals in each of the their first three games.
Shot blocking, defensive hustle and upped physicality all contributed. A team needs all three in order to hold the opposition under 20 shots — as Michigan did both nights this weekend. The biggest display of a defensive team effort is the discipline.
Previously, the Wolverines committed 15 penalties through three games. Over the weekend, they committed only one each game — coinciding with the best defensive performances of the year.
“How many did we take yesterday, just one? I think that speaks for itself,” said sophomore forward Josh Norris. “You know, (Michigan coach Mel Pearson) is always preaching about being the least penalized team in the country. And, starting yesterday, for the most part, I think we were pretty disciplined and especially against a team like that, that’s pretty physical and can get underneath your skin, so I think we did a good job with that.”
St. Lawrence won’t just get underneath the opposing team’s skin. The Saints will get above it too. As Pearson noted, they have sticks and arms around players that make it difficult to do anything down low — which is where they focused in return.
“They collapsed down low,” Pearson said. “They really clog it up. Even on the rush they have people back.
“They do a good job. They play defense first. They really grind.”
Down low is where a lot of the physical nature of the game comes into play. Battles for positions, hard drives and scruffles for the rebound define the area of play. So it’s easy to see how penalties will get called where sticks, bodies and words are easily exchanged.
“We’re really trying to up the ante on physicality in the d-zone,” said freshman forward Michael Pastujov. “And anyone who knows me knows I’m not a big hitter, but the opportunity was there so I just took it and I think it shows that even the guys who aren’t known to be big hitters could still play physical.”
But throughout the weekend, the Wolverines played within the boundaries of the game except for two moments.
The only lapse in the first game came from an unnecessary play.
“I didn’t like the one penalty we took,” Pearson said. “In the offensive zone, just jumped up and hit a guy, and we didn’t need to.”
The second? Just as unnecessary — as senior forward Brendan Warren committed a minor interference resulting in a call.
“Hockey is a game of mistakes,” Pearson said. “You’re gonna make mistakes. and you’re just trying to limit how many you make and not make them in critical times.”
And that’s part of the discipline that was showed both nights. Even though the two penalties were committed, they were done in times where they didn’t really attribute to the flow of the game.
“If we can do that, we continue to keep it three or under power plays a game, we’re going to be in good shape,” Pearson said. “We have to play disciplined, not only in penalties but within our system, and I’m starting to see more and more of that.”