After the Michigan hockey team’s Friday loss to Lake Superior, coach Mel Pearson went back to the tape and clipped sections of the game.
He sent those clips to the Big Ten referee crew.
To Pearson, it had been one of those games where physicality was allowed to go unchecked. On one occasion, he pointed out a shift with five plays that he thought were penalties.
“It’s objective,” Pearson said. “Is that a penalty, is that not a penalty? It’s so objective.”
When it’s a night where play gets chippier than usual, the level of physical play is upped and penalties aren’t being called, whichever team adjusts best and more quickly has the best chance to win.
The Wolverines were unable to match the physicality and intensity. But part of it, Pearson thought, was his own fault. He wasn’t able to adjust once he knew the level of physicality the referees were calling.
“We didn’t leverage (the lack of calls),” Pearson said. “A lot of penalties there in the third period, and just the inconsistencies. That’s all. We just want some consistency.
“It’s frustrating for the players when you don’t know what they’re gonna call, what they’re not gonna call. But when you have the lead and you’re on the road, you’re gonna have to kill penalties.”
Even if Michigan was trying to match the intensity, it’s hard to do so on the penalty kill. There are seldom any offensive pushes when a team’s a man short.
But that’s only really the case for a team unprepared for the unchecked physicality. Once it became clear the level of physical play and calls the referees were letting go through, Michigan embraced the physicality. It carried over to Saturday’s win.
It’s not often that a higher amount of penalties a team commits reflects positively on the team, but that’s the case for the Wolverines in their bounce-back game.
“The intensity was definitely higher,” said junior defenseman Griffin Luce. “And I think guys were compete a little more and sometimes when you compete a little harder, you’re going to get a penalty here and there.”
Where the penalties Friday had been unruly and the Wolverines were helpless to do anything to combat it, Saturday’s penalties showed how Michigan took the leniency of the refs and used it to be aggressive.
If they were going to get called, they’ll do it matching the physicality being put on them.
“I think we wanted to come out with a little bit more of an edge Saturday night,” Luce said. “And just the physicality, you know they were running around as well.”
And as much as that edge showed in the physical nature of the game, it showed well through words too. The Wolverines, running high with emotion from the intense game Friday, started to chirp.
“You’re frustrated and you say some things,” Pearson said. “And you get caught up in the emotion, you just have to let it go, you just have to. It can be tough, I get it, but you have to just bite your tongue and get ready for your next shift and just sort of let it slide. But it’s easier said than done.”
Luce thought he was interfered with late in the third period Saturday. He was pushed to the ground and when he got up and looked to the corner, he saw the sight of something he was hoping to see — the referee’s hand in the air. It was just on the wrong person.
The referee had called a penalty for interference not on the Laker player but on Luce, and he was having none of it.
“Told the ref,” Pearson said, “basically said, ‘What about the call at the far end, if that’s not a penalty, how can this be a penalty?’ And the guy just gave him (a 10-minute misconduct).”
And sophomore forward Michael Pastujov added to the talk. If there’s any more evidence of players being intense, it’s the emotional investment and thereby response of the players when things aren’t going their way.
“Pastujov said, ‘And that’s a slash? After all that’s going on, you calling that slashing?’ ” Pearson said, “and bang, gave him ten.”
Luce added: “I think there’s a fine line sometimes and sometimes you go over that line so just being able to control your emotions and stay into that zone where it’s not comfortable but you don’t push the limits too much.”