PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Michigan coach Mel Pearson decided to break up his most powerful offensive line by switching forwards Will Lockwood and Tony Calderone with the goal of spurring a more diverse offensive threat.
What ensued in the first and second periods Saturday night was not the sign of an eclectic offense, despite the 7-4 victory. Calderone, junior center Cooper Marody and senior left wing Dexter Dancs – who have combined for 47 points thus far this season – continued to dominate the stat sheet.
“We just want to try some things and you could see we were all over the place with lines today,” Pearson said. “Obviously Tony got back with Cooper and Cooper makes the plays to him, they’ve got something going.”
Added Lockwood: “I don’t think it changes much team dynamic. I think to find that chemistry between lines is important.”
The Michigan hockey team (2-4-2 Big Ten, 6-6-2 overall) faced off against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team in an exhibition with plenty to prove coming off a series sweep by Ohio State.
Calderone set the trend early in the first period with two goals. On a cross-ice pass and then later on a solo streak down the right flank, he delivered two crisp wrist shots that easily snuck past goaltender Drew Deridder – who will play for Michigan State next season.
The early score from Calderone – paired with Michigan’s intention to play a physical match, exemplified by a concerted effort to de-skate its younger foes – proved that the Wolverines weren’t planning on giving the USNTDP any breathing room.
“I think they brought the fire right away,” Calderone said. “I think this is one of the biggest games on their schedule. They wanted to bring it to us, so we had to match that.”
Marody and sophomore center Adam Winborg increased the Wolverines’ lead to four with two goals only minutes apart. The first came on a faceoff pass from sophomore left wing Jake Slaker and the second on another wrist shot.
After a scoring lull at the start of the second period, Michigan struck again nearly five minutes into the frame in a manner that fans have been seeing all season. Marody delivered a pass in the slot to Calderone, who passed to Dancs, who then buried the puck into the back of the net for the Wolverines’ fourth goal.
However, the U-18 team wasn’t sitting in the passenger seat to simply watch Michigan tally its 16th win in the all-time record column. It continuously forced turnovers and dealt back some of the damage dealt to them on the boards.
The USNTDP found the back of the net as well. Forward Oliver Wahlstrom netted its first goal almost seven minutes into the second period. Under two minutes later, forward Patrick Giles scored again to drop the deficit to two. And with three minutes left, Giles struck again to reduce the Wolverines’ lead to 4-3.
After that comeback, Michigan opened the third period looking completely dissimilar to its earlier self. But the Wolverines would soon find their groove again. Within 12 seconds of each other, Calderone and Lockwood gave Michigan some insurance with a goal apiece to bump its lead back up to three.
And a goal from sophomore center Nick Pastujov – assisted by his brother and fellow center Michael Pastujov – sealed USNTDP’s fate.
That goal proved that the Wolverines’ offense can have various lethal capabilities, but the changes Pearson made weren’t enough to make it a storyline for the whole game. At least, though, it was a start.