Sometimes it just takes a little time to get into a rhythm.
On Saturday afternoon, it only took the No. 8 Michigan hockey team (9-6 Big Ten, 11-6 overall) 15 minutes to find its groove against No. 7 Wisconsin (11-6, 13-7) on Saturday afternoon, a game it won decisively, 5-1.
On Monday, Michigan coach Mel Pearson seemed apprehensive about his team’s chances against the Badgers coming off a 14-day pause. The pause came just as the Wolverines were hitting their stride and their return would force a matchup against a Wisconsin team hitting its own stride. In reality, Pearson had no idea what to expect from the game.
“I mentioned to the guys ‘Hey we could get beat 8-0 or we could win 8-0,’ ” Pearson said. “I just wasn’t sure because we’ve never been through this before.”
And in the first period, it looked like Pearson had reason to worry.
As soon as the puck dropped, the Wolverines were on the defensive. An early hooking penalty sent Michigan on the penalty kill three minutes into the game. While it killed the man advantage with relative ease — no shots on goal in the two-minute span — Wisconsin continued to control the puck throughout the first period.
Early in the game, the Badgers were stationed in front of the Wolverines’ net, and Michigan had little response to push back. Ten minutes into the period, Wisconsin had eight shots to the Wolverines’ one. Eventually, the Badgers snuck the puck past freshman goaltender Erik Portillo with a well-placed shot over his left shoulder.
Still, Michigan looked sluggish and didn’t get another shot on goal till much later in the period. The Wolverines’ lack of energy — likely a by-product of their pause — was palpable, juxtaposed with the sound of cheering fans playing through the empty arena.
With five minutes left in the period, it looked like the Wolverines were starting to shake off the dust. Players from up and down the roster fired off shots in rapid succession, five in total. However, none were able to get past the Badgers’ goaltender, Robbie Beydoun, and Michigan entered the first intermission scoreless.
That momentum, though, carried over into the start of the second period. Three minutes in, Michigan found its equalizer with a goal from freshman forward Brendan Brisson, his sixth of the season.
“Once we got to that first since intermission and came out, we understood how fast we’re gonna have to play and how simple we are going to have to play and our guys made a nice adjustment,” Pearson said. “Then we got some goals and then the puck went in the net for us and we got some momentum.”
Freshman forward Matty Beniers followed it up in short order with a shot from just outside of the crease, giving the Wolverines their first lead of the game. From the second goal, there was no looking back.
“We just built off that every other shift till the end of the game,” senior forward Luke Morgan said. “It was a little rusty to start, but I think we shook it off pretty well and stuck together.”
With 12 minutes left in the period, sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini scored off a deflection, bringing the Wolverines’ lead to two.
Wisconsin continued to find offensive chances throughout the period, but Portillo continued to make saves, proving critical as the Badgers continued outshooting the Wolverines throughout the second period.
But Michigan kept getting the opportunities that counted. When Morgan fired off a shot from the left circle, the sound of the shot hitting the left goalpost echoed through the arena, tolling the doom of Wisconsin’s chances at a comeback.
Michigan outshot the Badgers in the third period — the only period they were able to do so, but the Wolverines didn’t extend their lead until the last five minutes.
What was likely intended to be a pass turned into a goal when sophomore forward Nick Granowicz fell onto the puck and it ricocheted into the net.
The game marked their third win against the Badgers this season after Michigan swept in Madison earlier this season. Recently though, Wisconsin has been on a tear through the Big Ten. Coming into this series, the Badgers had picked up seven of their last eight contests, making Michigan’s win all the more dominant a statement:
Michigan hockey is back.