Last weekend, the Michigan hockey team was plagued by defensive miscues and giveaways that allowed Ohio State to come away with two wins.
Friday, the Wolverines (11-5-3 Big Ten, 21-7-5 overall) were on the receiving end of two giveaways in the defensive zone at Yost Ice Arena, allowing them to get rolling early and come away with a 7-1 over Penn State (10-8-1, 20-11-4).
Down 1-0 after an early Nittany Lion goal, Michigan’s first goal came courtesy of the first line late in the opening period. Junior forward JT Compher forced a giveaway deep in the Nittany Lion zone. He retrieved the puck, and like so many times before this season, dished the puck off to freshman forward Kyle Connor.
Connor cradled the puck and ripped a shot from inside the left circle, past Penn State goaltender Eamon McAdam’s blocker, to give him his nation-leading 58th point and 27th goal of the year and further pad his Hobey Baker ward resume.
“I don’t try to think about the (Hobey Baker) at all,” Connor said. “If I’m playing good, and the team’s playing good and we’re having success, then personally, I don’t think about it.”
The Wolverines’ second goal came courtesy of another Penn State giveaway just outside the Penn State blue line. Good forechecking from the third line — consisting of freshman forwards Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren and sophomore forward Tony Calderone — allowed Calderone to break into the Nittany Lion zone on a breakaway.
Calderone deked once before backhanding the puck past McAdam to give the Wolverines the 2-1 advantage.
But Michigan wasn’t done — not by a long shot.
While Michigan entered the third period with only a one-goal advantage, by the end of the game, there was no doubt about the victor. The Wolverines scored five times, with goals coming from Connor, senior forwards Justin Selman and Boo Nieves and junior forward Max Shuart to stretch Michigan’s lead to six and shut the door on any kind of Penn State comeback.
Special teams played a big part in the third period as three of the Wolverines’ goals came on the power play and one came on the penalty kill.
“We really buckled down this week (on the penalty kill),” Selman said. “We watched some film on their powerplay, so we kind of knew a little bit of what to expect.
“Our power play’s been clicking. Both units have been working really hard in practice, so it’s good to see it pay off.”
In net, senior goaltender Steve Racine recovered from a bad weekend against Ohio State that saw him give up 11 goals to earn the win, making 35 saves and keeping Michigan in the game in the first two periods.
“We didn’t really give him much of a chance last weekend,” Nieves said. “We always start about starting on time, and we definitely didn’t last weekend. We definitely did today, and it showed tonight. As we progressed throughout the game, we kept the puck out of our zone, and made his job a lot easier.”
With the win, Michigan clinches at least the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will have a first-round bye next weekend. The Wolverines will also have a chance to win the Big Ten regular-season title tomorrow night with a win and a Minnesota loss.
Coming into the game with three straight losses, it was uncertain which Michigan team would take the ice Friday night: the one that scored at will early in the Big Ten season or the one prone to defensive mistakes.
After tonight’s win, there’s no doubt which team the Wolverines are heading into the postseason.
“This week, we talked about working hard and playing playoff-style hockey,” Selman said. “I think we started to do that today.”