SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When the second period started, the Wolverines’ bench was missing a familiar face.
Eighty-five feet across the ice from his team, freshman Johnny Beecher sat in the penalty box. He’d been whistled for tripping with 14 seconds remaining in the first period, and Michigan — already trailing No. 14 Notre Dame 1-0 — was forced to start the period on the penalty kill.
But the Wolverines didn’t panic. On Friday night, they’d successfully killed all three of their penalties. On Saturday, Beecher’s penalty was already their second test of the night.
Michigan knew it needed to have a strong second period to have a chance at winning the game. And when the penalty kill units stepped over the boards and onto the ice, they set the tone for Wolverines’ next 20 minutes.
After a string of blocked shots, zone clears and one short-handed scoring chance from fifth-year forward Jacob Hayhurst, Beecher skated out of the box.
“Every penalty kill is big,” sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe said. “Especially with the power play that Notre Dame has, and its shooting mentality. So (we knew) we’d have to block a lot of shots, and that’s exactly what we did. (Killing that penalty) helped our momentum.”
But the penalty kill wasn’t the only strong point for Michigan that period.
The Wolverines increased their intensity and physicality, while also maintaining confidence in their game plan.
These changes in Michigan’s play were instantly noticeable. After having ten shots on net in the first twenty minutes, it tallied 18 in the second, and the defense stepped up, too. The Wolverines blocked six of the Fighting Irish’s seven shots in the period.
“We knew we needed to get pucks on net,” Van Wyhe said. “We knew we needed to get behind them. That was how it was going to work and how we were going to get on top of them and we just started doing the little things.”
With Beecher’s penalty behind them, the Wolverines focused on closing the gap between them and Notre Dame. When they earned a power play opportunity at the halfway point of the second period, they knew they needed to capitalize on it.
Freshman defenseman Cam York skated with the puck and looked for an open teammate. Just in front of the blue line, sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg called for a pass. When the puck made contact with his stick, he skated laterally then fired a shot past the reaching glove of the Fighting Irish’s goaltender.
“(Cam York) said, ‘Hey, give it to me, I’m gonna go lower and give it back up to (you) and shoot it,’ ” Blankenburg said. “I feel like we talked about that, and then it’s just all about execution.”
With Blankenburg’s goal, Michigan had tied the game. Its attention to detail was paying off and the game was within reach. The impressive second period wasn’t the result of an intense intermission speech, though.
“We didn’t say anything,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “There was no magical speech (after the first period), it was just stay with it, and continue to play. We just talked about trying to get the puck behind their defensemen to put some pressure on them.”
Riding a wave of momentum from Blankenburg’s goal, the Wolverines’ offense continued to generate chances and their defense remained rock solid.
Just five minutes after Michigan tied the game at one, it took the lead on a goal from sophomore defenseman Jack Summers.
Senior forward Will Lockwood weaved through traffic in the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. Summers streaked towards the net on the left side and Lockwood fed him the puck in between two Notre Dame defenders.
Summers outstretched his stick to corral the pass then moved towards the net. He cut across the mouth of the goal and finished the puck off a backhand shot.
After entering the period trailing a goal, the Wolverines had managed to take the lead, 2-1.
“That second period was one of the best periods we’ve had this year,” Pearson said. “I thought we took it to them.”
And when the buzzer rang out to signal the end of the game, it was those middle 20 minutes that determined the outcome of the game.