The Michigan hockey team’s previous outing was a rough one, a 4-0 loss to Robert Morris at Yost Ice Arena on Oct. 31.
Two weeks passed before the 12th-ranked Wolverines (5-1-1) finally got the chance to hit the ice again to face Niagara.
Motivated to push past its first loss of the season, Michigan walked away from Yost Ice Arena with an emphatic 7-3 victory over the Purple Eagles (0-1-1 Atlantic Hockey League, 0-5-2 overall).
“It was good to get back into a game,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “You try to create a game condition and a game intensity in practice. Some days we’re good, and some days we’re not so good. But I thought we executed a lot better tonight.
“You’d like to be able to get back out there the next week. We practiced all week like we weren’t playing, and we had to ramp it up again this week.”
Within 10 seconds of the opening faceoff, junior forward JT Compher found himself on a breakaway after a nifty faceoff play. But Niagara goaltender Joe O’Brien was up to the task, getting a blocker on Compher’s shot and denying Michigan the chance to grab the early lead.
“There’s more and more faceoff plays in hockey now,” Berenson said. “Whether it’s the center ice faceoff or an offensive zone faceoff, we’re just trying to make things happen.”
Niagara wasn’t so lucky seven minutes later when freshman forward Kyle Connor found himself wide open just outside the right faceoff circle. Connor collected the feed from sophomore defenseman Sam Piazza and fired the puck home, past O’Brien’s glove to give Michigan the 1-0 lead.
From there, the Wolverines took it to O’Brien, scoring twice in one minute. Senior forward Justin Selman redirected a shot, and Connor notched his second of the game. Connor’s second goal was the last straw, and O’Brien was pulled as Michigan went into the first intermission up 3-0.
Even with a new Niagara goaltender in net for the second period, Michigan didn’t let up.
With just 1:45 gone in the second stanza, Michigan’s third line got on the board when freshman forward Cooper Marody put the Wolverines up by four by redirecting a shot to beat new goaltender Guillaume Therien.
“One of our strengths is that we have four lines that can all score.” Marody said.
It didn’t get much better for Therien in the second as Michigan peppered the Niagara netminder with shots, breaking through again on the power play when junior forward Tyler Motte tipped a shot from Compher for his fifth goal of the season.
Niagara got on the board with 1:49 left in the second period with a goal by Tanner Lomsnes, but by then, it was a moot point.
In the third period, Michigan got goals from sophomore forward Tony Calderone and sophomore defense, while Niagara defenseman Niko Kovachis and forward Stanislav Dzakhov tallied for the Purple Eagles.
“We’re fortunate to be able to recruit players like Werenski, Connor, (senior forward Boo Nieves) and Compher,” Berenson said. “These guys are all top recruits, and they can score. I know we can be top offensively. We just have to play them with the right people and in the right role.”
In the Michigan net, senior goaltender Steve Racine earned the start and excelled, stopping 21 shots and flashing the leather multiple times throughout the game before giving way to freshman Chad Catt with 9:52 left in the game
“I thought (Racine) played well,” Werenski said. “He made big saves for us. It’s also good to start 3-0 there in the first period to give him some confidence.”
With a trip to No. 11 Boston University looming in a week, it would’ve been easy for the Wolverines to look past their game against a winless Niagara team.
But instead, Michigan buckled down and will head to Boston off arguably its best game of the season thus far.
“It’s a one-game weekend, there’s nothing to save it for,” Berenson said. “We know we have a tough opponent next week, and we have to get our game up to another level. I thought we took a step towards that tonight.”