UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Johnny Beecher lifted his arms and opened them in celebration. 

Skating on one leg, he cruised toward the crowd and saluted. A moment earlier, he’d carried the puck from Michigan’s blueline into the offensive zone, cut to the net and rifled a shot directly into the back of the it.

It was Beecher’s second of the night, just less than four minutes after his first. And while neither of his two goals were the game winners, they helped put an exclamation point on the Wolverines’ offensive onslaught.

Due to performances like Beecher’s, Michigan (10-11-2 overall, 5-7-1-0 Big Ten) dominated No. 6 Penn State (16-7, 8-5), 6-0. 

From the moment the puck dropped at Pegula Ice Arena, the Wolverines were ready. In the opening minutes of the first period, freshman forward Nick Granowicz had two quality scoring chances but didn’t convert.

Halfway through the first period, the Wolverines hadn’t cracked Nittany Lions’ goaltender Peyton Jones despite numerous opportunities. Senior forward Jake Slaker changed that.  

He’d looked over his shoulder to the right and saw an opportunity. If his teammate, redshirt junior Luke Morgan, could get him the puck he’d be in a footrace with Penn State forward Alex Limoges.

Morgan threw a pass in between the two skaters, and in just a few strides, Slaker had Limoges beat. Three stick-handles and a wrist shot later, his team finally found the back of the netting.

Slaker’s goal gave the Wolverines an early 1-0 lead. Crucially, he gave his teammates confidence and momentum to build from, something they’ve struggled to do this season.

“A real great effort from our team,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “ … We’ve had some tough stretches. We’ve had some guys out. Now we’ve got them all back.  We just saw a glimpse tonight of how good we can play when we get everybody on the same page.

After senior forward Nick Pastujov gave the Wolverines a two goal advantage in the second period, the game was titled in their favor.

But Michigan wasn’t satisfied yet. Too many times this season it has slowed down in the third period and allowed teams a chance to stay in the game.

In just a four-minute span of the third period, the Wolverines showed the rare glimpse of what their offense is truly capable of doing. Beecher scored his first of the night. Then a minute later, Slaker netted his second. Sixty-three seconds more and junior forward Michael Pastujov — off a pass from his brother Nick — fired the puck past Jones. And no more than two minutes after that, Beecher celebrated again.

When the offense finally slowed, Michigan was ahead, 6-0.

“I think it was one of those games where we just kind of stuck to what we were doing,” Nick Pastujov said. “We had them in the first and the second. Without a doubt, we knew if we keep doing what we were doing they were going to break eventually and that’s pretty much what happened.”

All the scoring helped, but what really made this victory possible for the Wolverines was its defense and goaltender sophomore Strauss Mann. They won the game from moments that didn’t make the scoresheet. Ones that weren’t that memorable, but were nonetheless important. In their second shutout performance in three games, Michigan’s blueliners and Mann held strong while the offense found its footing.

When shots needed to be blocked, a Wolverine was there in the shooting lane. If a save was required, Mann made it easily. 

Michigan gave the Nittany Lions, a top-ranked power play team, just two opportunities. And during even strength play, it severely limited their odd man rush chances. Friday night, these little defensive details were the true difference makers. 

Because the Wolverines took care of things behind the blueline, their offense could focus on attacking.

“I think we’re just taking care of our D-zone more,” Nick Pastujov said. “We’re getting back, we have a really good (third forechecking forward) in the offensive zone to help with the back pressure. Strauss (Mann) is playing as good as he ever could be right now, probably could be even better. … We’re going out there and battling for him. Everybody’s stepping up and making big plays in the zone.”

After Michigan’s third straight Big Ten win — the longest conference win streak it’s had this season — confidence is at an all-time high. And if the Wolverines want to move up in the standings, offensive and defensive performances like Friday night need to become regular.

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