Thomas Bordeleau glided towards the penalty box, a baffled expression on his face.
Just under six minutes remained in the Michigan hockey team’s Friday night game against Wisconsin, the score tied at one, and the freshman forward had just been sent to the box for using his hand to win a face-off. The Wolverines would be left shorthanded for two crucial minutes where a goal could have been the difference.
But Michigan’s penalty killers stepped up. The Badgers came up empty with their top power play unit on the ice for the entire two minutes due to a clock malfunction-caused pause. They only attempted two shots, neither of which was particularly dangerous.
“I was pretty confident going into the penalty box because I know that we’re good on the penalty kill,” Bordeleau said. “I trust the guys and … they bailed me out.
“I owe them a lot because without that we wouldn’t have been able to win the game.”
Less than a minute later the Wolverines were down a man again, this time the result of a tripping penalty called on freshman forward Kent Johnson. Once again, Michigan didn’t give Wisconsin much. Badgers forward Cole Caufield found himself with two prime scoring opportunities — a close look from the slot and a one-timer from the left circle — but both were blocked.
The Wolverines’ two successful penalty kills forced overtime, which ended in a 2-1 Michigan win on a highlight-reel goal from Bordeleau.
“I’m not interested in that percentage as much as I am when you have to kill those penalties,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “They’re ticky tacky penalties, (but) whether they’re penalties or not, we have to kill them.”
After Caufield — who finished second in the Big Ten in points last season — assisted on Wisconsin’s only power play goal on Thursday with a perfect cross-ice pass, the Wolverines emphasized limiting his opportunities. Their success in doing so on the Badgers’ two late man advantages was key to shutting down Wisconsin’s power play.
“He’s still gonna get opportunities. He’s just so shifty and so creative that he can create opportunities just by himself,” Pearson said. “I thought we just contained him better. He still gets his shots. But I thought we did a nice job on him, just not giving him as much time and space as we did last night and on some of his opportunities.”
While Michigan’s freshmen have exceeded their high expectations early, the Wolverines hadn’t been in a situation like this one prior to Friday. Their inexperience could have led them to crumble under the pressure and lose their first game of the season. But Michigan’s upperclassmen led the way, as the Wolverines never looked uncomfortable or panicked during a stretch than was anything but calm.
“Everyone was being positive, picking each other up, cheering each other on, so overall the bench morale was great,” sophomore forward Nick Granowicz said. “We have faith in our players. We practice our penalty kill a lot, and, you know, we’re better, so it worked out for us.”
Following a weekend sweep of Arizona State in which Michigan didn’t do much wrong, cutting down on penalties was one of the few areas where Pearson wanted to improve. Despite killing 9-of-10 penalties, he didn’t want his team playing in shorthanded situations nearly as much.
Late on Friday, the penalty issues were prevalent. But after giving up goals on two of Wisconsin’s first six power plays in the series, the Wolverines’ penalty kill returned to the stifling form it showed against the Sun Devils.
While Bordeleau’s game-winning goal will receive all of the attention, this five-minute stretch at the end of regulation was just as important to the win.