Two weeks ago, the Michigan hockey team played Michigan State in a home-and-home series that kicked off at Yost Ice Arena on a Friday, and the Wolverines fell to the Spartans, 3-0. The Friday before, Michigan lost to Minnesota, 5-2. And in the Wolverines’ series against Wisconsin, they lost the Friday opener to the Badgers.
Friday wins haven’t come easily for Michigan (1-6-1 Big Ten, 8-12-2 overall.) The last time the Wolverines opened a weekend series with a win was back on Nov. 11, when they topped then-No. 4 Boston in a 4-0 shutout.
This weekend, Michigan can’t expect it to be any easier. No. 11 Ohio State (3-4-1-1, 12-6-6) is traveling to Ann Arbor for a weekend series at Yost, and it’s looking for redemption after falling to Wisconsin twice last weekend.
For the Wolverines, starting off the series with a win on Friday could make all the difference.
“It means everything,” said Michigan assistant head coach Billy Powers. “We can’t look back, but the Fridays — in particular in the past month, month and a half — have not been good. You’re really regrouping Friday night, having a chaotic Saturday of whatever we have to do to get through this weekend and survive and get points out of it. It’s not a good approach to it.
“You really hope that you have a game Friday night that gives you a chance to have a great weekend instead of salvaging a weekend.”
The Buckeyes feature a prolific scoring offense, sitting second in the NCAA. Seventeen members of Ohio State’s roster have at least one goal and, on average, the Buckeyes generate four goals per game — Michigan is averaging just two and a half.
Forward Mason Jobst has brought recent success to his team, recording 19 points in his last nine games. Forward Nick Schilkey, a captain, is sitting on 114 career points, 25 of which have come this season. In addition to those two, all 23 skaters on the Buckeyes’ roster have at least a point and an assist.
“I think the biggest challenge we’ll face is shutting down their offense,” said freshman forward Will Lockwood. “They’re a team with a lot of weapons on their offense, and we’re definitely a team that needs to take pride in our (defensive zone).”
For the Wolverines, Lockwood is currently second in points scored with seven goals and six assists. He falls behind the only freshman forward Jake Slaker, who is boasting a team-high 14 points with four goals and 10 assists.
But with a team as offensively-sound as Ohio State, it will fall on Michigan’s defense to really step up. Three of the Wolverines’ goaltenders — freshmen Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine and senior Zach Nagelvoort — have evenly split appearances in front of the net with eight each. Lavigne leads in save percentage with .932, while Nagelvoort and LaFontaine are trailing him with .917 apiece.
In blocked shots, the Wolverines lead all Division I teams with 18.23 per game. Freshman defenseman Luke Martin has recorded a team-high 52 blocked shots so far this season, with sophomore defenseman Nicholas Boka following closely behind with 50.
Still, Ohio State will be far from an easy win. With such an aggressive offense, it will be difficult for the Wolverines to pull a win out of the series despite their ability to block shots — regardless of whether or not it’s on a Friday.
“We know they’re a really good team this year,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “They’re fast and pretty explosive, and they’ve had some ridiculously high-scoring games in my four years here, so hopefully that won’t happen this year. We’re trying to keep the score down and play our game.”