ALLENTOWN, PA — The Michigan hockey team’s semi-final matchup against American International College gave fans a taste of what it had been missing for the past four years. Only two players remain from the 2017-18 squad that competed in the Frozen Four — senior forward Michael Pastujov and graduate student forward Luke Morgan.
Even though the Wolverine’s star studded lineup contributed to their dominant performance, it was the depth players that gave them the momentum early on.
Michigan’s starting line featured the likes of senior forwards Nolan Moyle, Garrett Van Wyhe and Jimmy Lambert. The trio have just 13 goals between them with Van Wyhe only having four up until his side’s matchup against the Yellow Jackets.
In what could’ve been his last time suiting up for Michigan, Van Wyhe came out swinging. Scoring off the deflection from an AIC defenseman, he earned the game’s first goal just a few minutes in and set the standard moving forward. He continued to be an offensive threat, shooting on goal five times—two more than any of his teammates.
The Wolverines’ depth performance continued to show through younger players as well.
Michigan’s underclassmen don’t have a plethora of knockout game experience, but that didn’t stop freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards from tallying another goal for his side. Edwards, like Van Wyhe, isn’t a huge contributor to the box score as he only earned two goals and eight assists prior to the NCAA Tournament.
But when sophomore forward Brendan Brisson laid up the puck, Edwards crashed the night and swung at it effortlessly. Burying it in the upper ninety, the Wolverines had notched two goals less than a minute apart. Even though it was Edwards’ first NCAA Tournament game, he looked like a veteran on the ice.
“Our coaches have prepared us well,” Edwards said. “Single elimination games are a game of who prepares best. We’ve done a good job and we’re losing to continue that.”
Edwards’ assistant, Brisson, earned a goal and a pair of assists against the Yellow Jackets. He leads Michigan in goals this season and as a sophomore, his NCAA Tournament experience is minimal. Last season, Brisson earned 10 goals before a COVID-19 outbreak ended the Wolverines’ postseason ventures prematurely.
He received a second chance against the AIC.
“Two years ago, all the teams were shut down because of COVID,” Brisson said. “Last year was unfortunate as we were the only team in the tournament that got shut down. We’re rolling and we’re not here for nothing without playing any games.”
Michigans’s matchups against older teams like Western Michigan and Minnesota State were good practice for a veteran side like the Yellow Jackets. The Wolverines superstars got the job done, but as it showed tonight, Michigan’s depth players are just as important.
“We have some older guys too and I thought they were our best lines,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They got the first goal of the game for us and were outstanding. I matched them up against one of their (AIC) best lines because they would not cheat on offense and play hard.”
AIC caused issues, such as flying out of their defensive zone or keeping forwards high. But in the end, Lambert, Moyle and Van Wyhe were steps ahead of their opponents and readied themselves for a regional final.