Be the most disciplined team in the country.
It’s a goal the Michigan hockey team has set for itself. It’s even written on the whiteboard in their locker room.
But Tuesday night’s game proved the team is a long way from achieving that goal.
“It’s just frustrating as a coach,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “You can’t get away with penalties against a good team like that who thrives on the powerplay.”
Penalties proved costly for Michigan on Tuesday night as the Wolverines fell to Minnesota, 3-1. Playing in a battle of top five teams — with three of their top four point-getters missing at the Team USA World Juniors Camp — they were going to need to come out aggressively and carry momentum.
And the Wolverines looked like the more aggressive team in the first period. But early in the second, momentum suddenly flipped in Minnesota’s favor when freshman forward Phillipe Lapointe took a slashing penalty and put Michigan’s penalty killers to work.
The unit held strong and the team returned to even strength. But Michigan came out a little too ambitious and were caught with six skaters out on the ice. The Wolverines immediately returned to the penalty kill, and this time Minnesota did not miss.
“Two guys jumped on for one guy that came off; they just got confused about who was coming off the ice at that point,” Pearson said. “They just have to pay more attention to detail.”
The Golden Gophers controlled the ensuing face-off, fired a shot off the post and buried the rebound to take a 1-0 lead. They took control of the game and Michigan never recovered.
“They got another (power play) which kind of kills momentum,” freshman forward Kent Johnson said. “We just got to do a better job of just staying up if things go wrong.”
Minnesota played with more confidence and late in the second period, they grabbed another goal to double their advantage. They made it 3-0 early in the third and the Wolverines looked to be dead in the water.
Then it appeared the tides had turned once again, this time in Michigan’s favor — Johnson scored a highlight reel backhand goal and Michigan went on a power play with a chance to cut the deficit to one. The offense finally began to find its groove, but with 30 seconds left on the man-advantage, Michigan’s undisciplined play again killed their offensive rhythm.
“I thought it was pretty even first period then obviously we started taking penalties,” Pearson said. “We just took all our momentum away.”
They took another too many men penalty which forced them into four-on-four play. Two more penalties in the final five minutes killed any chance for offensive zone pressure and the Golden Gophers essentially held the puck and ran out the clock.
Tuesday, Michigan was hoping to rebound from the six penalties they took against Penn State last week. Instead, they took five more penalties and their inability to stay out of the box cost them any chance at a comeback.
“I’m not happy with the game, not happy with our penalties, our discipline, not happy with some of our efforts,” Pearson said. “Just our mental preparation and our will and want to play in this game; we have to be tougher than that.”
The Wolverines will have to find a way to break this habit if they want to go into the break on a high note.
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