MADISON — If a team is going to give up 12 power plays in one weekend, it better kill them off.
Special teams play has dominated the No 5 Michigan hockey team’s playstyle. Whether it be a power play recently skidding to an abrupt halt to a penalty kill that saw all-too-much ice-time against Wisconsin, the Wolverines make their money on uneven play.
So when Michigan successfully neutralized all six of its penalties against the Badgers on Saturday, and 11 of 12 on the weekend, it had much to commend itself for. But there are still obvious flaws. Nevertheless, the Wolverines walked away with a win powered by a stifling penalty kill.
“First of all, we gotta stay out of the box,” junior defenseman Jacob Truscott said. “That’s important, we can’t give up that many penalties, but I thought (penalty kill) did a good job. It really helps gain momentum into five-on-five play. I thought the guys did a good job.”
Michigan can safely say it has one of the hottest penalty killing units in college hockey. Currently tied for No. 40 in the nation at .792, the group has killed a combined 16 of 18 in its previous two weeks against Wisconsin and Harvard. That badge of honor is something the Wolverines can certainly hang their hat on, but it comes at a price.
On the other side of the coin, Michigan currently has the fifth-most penalty minutes taken in the NCAA — a dangerous place to reside. It can breathe a sigh of relief every time one of its own leaves the penalty box, but after spending nearly entire periods short-handed, that breath becomes a pant, and it can leave the Wolverine game plan gasping for air.
While Truscott may have emphasized how the penalty kill energizes five-on-five play, just 24 hours ago, after suffering a frustrating loss, freshman forward Rutger McGroarty explained a different sentiment. McGroarty emphasized how penalties, “just kill momentum.” Evidently, the final game result shifts the impact of the penalty-kill.
“It’s just the story of the year,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “When things don’t go our way, just mistakes that we’ll learn from and hopefully second half and even a year, or two, three years down the road, have a much bigger impact.”
Despite the large number of penalties taken though, the fact remains that the Wolverines successfully killed off 11 penalties with often near-flawless execution.
Not only did Michigan disrupt the Badger powerplay throughout the night, it often took matters one step further, using Wisconsin’s larger Olympic-sized ice against it and putting offensive pressure on the Badgers despite being short handed.
This pressure eventually materialized itself into the Wolverines first short-handed goal on the season as a key blocked shot by Truscott led to a Michigan clear. From there, forechecking Wisconsin’s breakout, sophomore forward Mark Estapa collected a turnover and roofed the game-clinching goal.
“I was just doing my job trying to get the block and get it out,” Truscott said. “(Estapa) put the real work in and got the goal, so that’s all.”
Michigan’s penalty kill found success on both ends. Throughout the season, Estapa and the Wolverines have stressed that playing “hungry” is what leads to their success. And on the penalty kill, when effort defines the difference between a deflating goal, or a jovial return to five-on-five, Michigan is firing on all cylinders.
While the Wolverines may concede that they aren’t enthralled by the prospect of surrendering so many penalties, they have to be pleased with the results.