NEW YORK CITY — Quinn Hughes went into the locker room and turned to the team. After a poor showing defensively, Hughes did what he had to do. He was accountable for his sloppiness in Saturday’s game against No. 15 Penn State, one that the Michigan hockey team lost, 5-2, with the sophomore defenseman at the epicenter.
“I just thought he had a tough night as far as a couple of his turnovers,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “And he knows. He stood up in the locker room and took responsibility for them.”
It’s easy to point the blame. Anyone can do it. But when two goals are scored directly after a player’s turnovers, it becomes even easier to point the finger a certain way.
“As long as you play this game and you’re a hockey player,” Pearson said. “You’re going to have some nights that are hard and it’s one of those nights for him.”
It began with a normal play — Hughes with the puck bringing it up the ice to start the offensive push. As a skilled skater and, as Pearson notes, an elite player, it’s a norm for him to push the puck through the neutral zone.
However, midway through the first period, he was contested on his offensive zone entry attempt.
Stick extended. Sticks clashed. Puck out.
Hughes had seen the opposing player speed toward him and held his stick out wide to try and protect the puck from the contest. Despite his attempt to protect the puck, the two sticks clashed against one another and resulted with the puck leaking toward Michigan’s net.
Nittany Lion Liam Folkes took the one-on-none chance and increased Penn State’s lead to two.
The main problem with Hughes’ turnover was that no one was back to defend the breakaway. Senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi had pushed far up to take a more offensive stance, yet when the puck was loose, he lagged behind the play.
“We had a defenseman back,” Pearson said. “He’s the last man, we’re trying to beat a guy in the neutral zone and his partner is not backing him up, he’s ahead of him. So, he gets stripped, there’s no support. Breakaway.”
Of course, Cecconi shouldn’t have been as far up as he was, but Hughes should have recognized that and the risks of a turnover in that situation. The only thing separating Lavigne from Folkes was Hughes, and he failed to recognize it.
His second lapse was the nail in the coffin.
Down three and on the power play in the middle of the second period, the Wolverines needed to convert the man-advantage in the worst way. A goal would have brought them within striking distance. Instead, a Hughes’ turnover resulted in insurmountable deficit.
Hughes, again, brought the puck up to the neutral zone. He made a pass back to a trailing teammate. However, no one was in the vicinity that could get to the puck in time. Instead, Nittany Lion Alex Limoges stole the puck from the intended pass and hammered it home after beating Lavigne on the one-on-none.
“Obviously in the start of the second, a power play, we made a drop pass to one of our guys and we don’t have support,” Pearson said. “We’re all by the puck. We didn’t play on the right side of the puck. We did not sense danger –– and I don’t want to say our whole team, but a few individuals. We just didn’t sense that urgency or the danger and they made us pay.”
Again, the presumption that there was a player behind haunted the Wolverines and allowed a direct confrontation with Lavigne. Hughes was unable to recognize it, and his turnovers caused goals. He did, however, recognize his faults.
“I think once you speak out, and take responsibility, then you gotta step up and you gotta do it on the ice,” Pearson said. “And it’s hard. You know. It’s hard to admit your faults sometimes.”