One and a half minutes after Penn State scored in the second period, junior forward Johnny Beecher hit the one-time finish and gave Michigan a 3-1 lead.
Being aggressive after an opponent’s goal was the Wolverines’ x-factor in their road trip to Penn State. Michigan has been solid defensively this season, and it’s rare for its opponent to score. Yet, when they do, the Wolverines respond quickly.
During Michigan’s road sweep against Penn State, the Nittany Lions only managed to score three goals. Each time, the Wolverines scored within minutes, aggressively wrestling the momentum back in their favor.
In the second game, the Nittany Lions scored early in the second period, only for freshman defenseman Luke Hughes to end his opponents’ hope for resurgence two minutes later. Michigan dominated the rest of the period, scoring two more goals. And when Penn State scored its second goal of the night midway through the third period, Hughes did it again. Finding the puck at the point, Hughes drove the puck toward goal and ripped a shot just inside the top right corner.
“We talk about momentum change or changing shifts in games,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “ … We push back when we give up a goal, and push ahead when we get one. Then we go for another one.”
The Wolverines are aware of their offensive quality and use it to their advantage, combining for 11 goals against Penn State and their 52 goals per game in the season are good for second in the country. Sophomore forward Matty Beniers came back to Ann Arbor with three goals, and now leads the Wolverines with nine on the season. Hughes scored both responsive goals and sits third on the team in scoring.
The Nittany Lions played from behind the whole weekend. If they had a spark, the Wolverines put it out and took over. But that attitude starts when players aren’t on the ice.
“We’ve been working on being positive and uplifting on the bench,” Beniers said. “It’s about not getting too angry and having an even keel on the bench. We did a good job with it this weekend.”
Although stellar offensive performances made a difference, encouragement off the ice was the key to Michigan’s success. Instead of slamming their sticks or throwing water bottles, the Wolverines’ approach was to stay calm. In a sport that revolves around aggression, countering it with positive reinforcement gives Michigan its edge.
“It contributed to us bouncing back quickly,” Beniers said. “We didn’t get overwhelmed about them scoring, or not getting too happy when we scored. We were focused on winning the game.”
Knowing mistakes will be made throughout the season and learning to respond shows a new sense of maturity in such a young roster. Players like Beniers have been at Michigan for a short time, and the NHL second-overall pick is one of the most high-profile players on the team. Yet his ability to see through the noise around his name proves why he wears the A.
The Wolverines have all the assets to be a championship-caliber team. Sometimes, a group of superstar players won’t mesh and the fingers are pointed.
In Michigan’s case, team camaraderie could be crucial to its success.