During its first series of the season, the Michigan hockey team seemed hesitant at times to take shots. The team passed excessively in the offensive zone, often waiting too long for plays to develop.
Friday night against Lake Superior State, though, things changed. The Wolverines played with more urgency on the attack and were unafraid to release the puck quickly. This strategy proved effective, as Michigan (1-1-1) defeated the Lakers (2-3-0), 4-0, for its first win of the season, as offensive speed complemented a shutout performance from sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann.
“Yeah, I thought we were trying to get more shots on net,” said freshman forward Eric Ciccolini. “The last couple games we were trying to be passing, certain plays to try and make and we weren’t converting on them. I think we just got more pucks on net.”
Just over a minute into the game, Michigan found itself short a man after junior forward Jack Becker got called for hooking. The Wolverines handled the opening penalty kill with ease — and even generated offensive opportunities while shorthanded.
The first of those looks came from redshirt junior forward Luke Morgan. The puck broke loose near the center circle and strayed quickly into Michigan’s offensive zone. Morgan hustled after it, but ultimately goaltender Mareks Mitens got there first. Soon after, following a faceoff in the Wolverines’ defensive zone, freshman forward Johnny Beecher rushed down an open left lane and fended off defensemen to get a quality shot.
Less than a minute after killing the penalty, Michigan received its first power play of the night. It looked as if the man advantage would go to waste, but then sophomore forward Nolan Moyle capitalized with eight seconds left. Graduate transfer defenseman Shane Switzer settled a bouncing puck in the high slot, and Moyle soon got possession and sent a wrister into the top-right corner for a 1-0 lead.
“I think it gives us a big boost,” Ciccolini said of scoring first. “Last weekend we didn’t get the first goal, so we’re kind of down and I think we built off getting the lead first and I think it just helped us.”
The Wolverines tallied a second goal near the end of the opening frame. Graduate transfer forward Jacob Hayhurst found sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg just past the blue line on the left side of the ice. Blankenburg then sent a wrister on a long journey into the top-right corner.
Speed was a key driver of Michigan’s offensive success. By outskating their opponents, the Wolverines found more passing lanes and then used creativity to get real scoring chances.
This was apparent midway through the second period. Beecher quickly found space while breaking into the offensive zone, then sent a no-look pass through his legs to Becker who trailed behind. From there, Becker fired a shot for Michigan’s third goal.
Later on, sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe used his speed to get a breakaway look and almost added another goal.
During the final period, the Wolverines widened the gap. With around six minutes remaining, senior forward Nick Pastujov won a faceoff in the offensive zone, providing senior forward Will Lockwood with an opportunity. Lockwood soon found the back of the net, putting the Wolverines up by four and adding an exclamation mark to the win.
Putting the win aside, there is certainly room for improvement. Much of that lies on the defensive end. Freshman defenseman Cam York and senior defenseman Griffin Luce sat out Friday night — the former recovering from a minor injury while the latter faced a suspension. Without them, there seemed to be substantial miscommunication, which led to a handful of odd-man rushes for Lake Superior State. Mann handled them with ease, notching 24 saves for the first shutout of his college career. Against more imposing teams, though, the Wolverines could pay for such mistakes.
“Any win’s a good win. Learned that a long time ago,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “You have to enjoy the wins. Sometimes they’re not pretty, sometimes you’re not happy with a lot of things or how your team played maybe overall in the game, but there’s nights where you play really well and you don’t get the win. We’ll take the win, understanding we have to be a lot better than that.”