After getting swept for the first time this season against Notre Dame, No. 4 Michigan looked to redeem itself in its matchup with Niagara. Although the Wolverines dominated possession in the first period, it didn’t look promising.
Michigan was eager to play but struggled to put up shots. Whether it was passing too much, lacking offensive rhythm or failing to score on power play, the Wolverines couldn’t take control.
This showed when Purple Eagles earned a penalty and Michigan took Portillo out for the extra skater. The team lacked the awareness to find the right play and score with the offensive advantage. Eventually it happened for the Wolverines, scoring through freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards — his first goal of the season. Yet moments later Niagara responded and Michigan was back where they started. The Wolverines ended the period outshooting the Purple Eagles only 9-to-7.
“We were overpassing,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We were looking for the highlight real or the perfect shot. We gave up some good scoring opportunities to try to make the extra pass.”
A strong second period performance was vital to change the game and that’s just what Michigan did.
The team put the puck on net from the start. Senior forward Jimmy Lambert earned the Wolverines first shot on goal three minutes into the second period. The play started the team’s momentum, and Michigan didn’t turn back.
“We had to simplify and just get people to get pucks on the net,” Pearson said. “We finally got the result, but it didn’t happen instantly. We have to be patient and stick with it.”
Sophomore forward Kent Johnson constantly drove at the left post giving Purple Eagle’s goaltender Jake Sibell a couple easy saves. Yet, the team was percisant in creating opportunities.
Instead of passing, Michigan found the open shooter and took advantage of its opponent. A change in strategy rewarded it in a five-on-three powerplay when senior forward Michael Postujov scored off the rebound.
The Wolverines continued to do anything to shoot: sophomore forward Brendan Brisson even tried to punch the puck in with his glove.
Although much of their efforts didn’t show in the 2-1 score, the Wolverines dominated in shots on goal in the second period, outshooting Niagara 23-to-2. Michigan went on to score four more goals in the third period, ending the game outshooting the Purple Eagles 45-to-12.
“It took us a while to skate off the turkey and stuffing,” Pearson said. “Once we got going, I thought we had a good second period and finished strong. We need to make sure we get off to a better start tomorrow than we did tonight.”
The second period was a sneak peak of what was to come in the third, and Michigan delivered. The Wolverines didn’t score on their best chances of the night. The goals were greasy, gritty and not pretty. But when they needed goals most, they scored.
Not being able to defend a lead has been a weakness of the Wolverines all season, especially against Notre Dame. If it wasn’t for Michigan’s second period performance history may have repeated itself. Learning to start how they finish could be the Wolverine’s biggest challenge as they look to be consistently the number one team in collegiate hockey.