The Michigan hockey team hasn’t been able to sing “The Victors” at Yost Ice Arena since October.
For Michigan coach Red Berenson, that practice is a privilege which can only be earned after a series sweep.
Those sweeps have been hard to come by, though, as Michigan has made a habit of trouncing opponents on Fridays before faltering in the second game on Saturday.
But this Saturday, the Wolverines finally earned that privilege again.
Behind a four-goal outburst in the second period, the eighth-ranked Wolverines (4-1-1-1 Big Ten, 13-3-3 overall) cruised to a 6-3 victory against Michigan State (1-5-0-0 Big Ten, 5-15-2 overall).
“When you come off a good game, like a 7-0 game against Dartmouth and then end up tying the game the next night, that’s not good enough,” Berenson said. “When you beat Minnesota 8-3, and then you come out and you don’t play as well, and you know they’re going to bounce back. That little bit of history, I challenged our team last night: Do we know how to finish off a weekend?”
For the first 18 minutes, though, the Spartans looked like they may have given Michigan its answer to Berenson’s question. Michigan State appeared to have cracked the code to stopping the Michigan’s offense — the same offense that had relentlessly poured on nine goals against them only a night before in East Lansing.
But after sophomore forward Dexter Dancs found twine 18:37 into the first period, the floodgates had finally been opened.
Dancs notched his second goal in two games after junior center Max Shuart won the puck behind net and fed it to him in front for an easy finish.
The goal tied the game at one and awoke the sleeping giant that was Michigan’s offense.
Michigan State notched its first goal 4:27 into the first frame off the stick of defenseman Dylan Pavelek.
The Wolverines were caught in the middle of a line change, and Pavelek came away with a breakaway goal to show for it.
Despite the single lapse, Michigan’s defense was sharp throughout the first frame — ensuring Pavelek’s goal would be the only one the Spartans could muster before the Wolverines’ offense broke through.
Yet Michigan struggled to create scoring chances, as the Wolverines tallied just one shot on goal in the opening ten minutes.
Michigan managed to weather the storm while its offense sputtered, eventually getting the spark they needed from Dancs.
Dancs’ goal appeared to give Michigan new life, as its offensive production exploded to open the second period.
Two minutes into the frame sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski drove a shot at net. Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand made a good effort to deflect the puck, but freshman forward Cooper Marody jumped on it and lit the lamp to give Michigan its first lead of the game.
From that point, the Spartans trailed for the rest of the game.
Just 46 seconds later, junior defenseman Michael Downing converted a long wrist shot to give the Wolverines a 3-1 lead.
Werenski added a goal to his stat sheet as well — which prompted a violin-playing celebration that earned the fans’ cheers of approval — before junior forward Tyler Motte rounded out the scoring for the Michigan.
But after jumping out to a 5-1 lead and appearing to take control, unnecessary penalties doomed the Wolverines, as the Spartans closed the frame with two unanswered goals.
For a moment, it appeared Michigan was going to suffer through the same fate that has befallen them in Saturday matchups since October.
Michigan State was charging into the third period, and it was looking as if this would be another split series for the Wolverines.
But the two finishes would be the Spartans’ last of the night, as Michigan made a stout defensive stand for the entirety of the third period. Goaltender Steve Racine stood tall, facing seven shots in the third period and finishing with 24 total saves. The netminder was impressive all night, tallying a number of impressive glove saves and limiting dangerous second-chance opportunities.
“I thought we had a great third period,” Racine said. “We knew they were going to come out hard. I think they had a couple of chances early. But we stuck with it. They had a couple power plays and we did a really good job on the kill. After that third goal we knew we had to bear down and we did a really good job in the third.”
Besides freshman forward Kyle Connor’s empty-net goal with 2:22 left to play, the Wolverines were held at bay once again in the third frame, as they tallied 14 shots but came away with only one goal to show for them.
With its six goals against the Spartans, Michigan finished the weekend with 15 goals in two games.
But more importantly, the Wolverines got over their biggest hurdle.
They closed out a series.
They were allowed to sing “The Victors.”