The resourcefulness of Michigan hockey’s special teams Friday night earned it a victory in its season opener against St. Lawrence. Finding the net on two of five power plays, the Wolverines’ performance mimicked last season’s dynamic power-play offense that finished 17th nationally.
But just a day later, that same offense looked starkly different.
Inefficiency on the power play was the downfall of Michigan (1-1-0 overall) in its Saturday matchup with Clarkson. The Wolverines couldn’t convert on any of their eight special teams’ chances. The failure to do so was glaringly displayed in two of Michigan’s opportunities, which happened to be five-on-three advantages.
“When you don’t score any goals, it’s hard to win a hockey game,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “But it’s a process and it’s going to be a process with this team.”
Despite outshooting the Golden Knights (2-0-0) 29-19, Michigan found itself in this exact offensive predicament. Falling to Clarkson in the Saturday nightcap halted the Wolverines’ chance for a weekend sweep, and resulted in Michigan splitting its opening weekend.
“We’re going to have to continue working on our special teams, especially five-on-threes,” Pearson said. “We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work on those, and I think you could see that tonight a little bit. But those are huge momentum swings in the game, and if we can score one on that, then we’re right back in.”
While no puck found the back of the net Saturday, the Wolverines certainly didn’t make it an easy night for Golden Knight goaltender Jack Kielly. The sophomore netminder recorded 29 saves throughout regulation. Michigan brought an energized attack Friday as well, recording 27 shots against the Saints (0-2-0).
The penalty kill — a focal point during practices this week — was another strong suit for the Wolverines on their New York road trip. Michigan prevented goals on all four of St. Lawrence’s power plays Friday, and went 5-for-6 on penalty kills against Clarkson.
Preventing the opposition from scoring on power plays was just one asset of the Wolverines’ blue line this weekend. Michigan’s defense also held its opponents to relatively low shot counts.
“We definitely made some improvement defensively,” Pearson said. “You know, to only give up 18 shots to a team like Clarkson … is a good sign for our defense. And our goaltenders might want a little more work, but we’re trying to limit the shots.
“I thought it was a good defensive effort (Saturday night). A lot of blocked shots, a lot of guys sacrificing their body to make a difference.”
As could be anticipated in an opening weekend, Michigan also had its fair share of firsts.
Pearson, who has officially begun his first season as head coach of the Michigan hockey team, kicked off his tenure with the win against St. Lawrence. Additionally, his first loss came Saturday against Clarkson, splitting his first weekend.
Sophomore goaltender Jack LaFontaine earned his first win of the season in the opener, racking up 24 saves against the Saints on Friday night. Sophomore netminder Hayden Lavigne also saw his first official start this season Saturday against the Golden Knights, recording 16 stops on a 19-shot night.
On the other end of the ice, freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes and forward Alex Roos netted their first goals for the Wolverines against St. Lawrence. Hughes notched his first collegiate goal on a power play early in the second period, while Roos scored Michigan’s third and final goal about midway through the third.
The only opposing goal was scored by forward Alex Gilmour in the second period, but wasn’t enough to combat Michigan’s two-goal lead.
Hughes and Roos, in combination with another power-play goal from senior forward Tony Calderone, led the Wolverines to their eventual 3-1 triumph over the Saints.
Saturday’s results differed from that of the St. Lawrence game and weren’t what Michigan had hoped for. Clarkson scored two goals in the first period, one of which was the result of a power play from a Roos hooking penalty. A third and final goal was scored for the Golden Knights in the second period by defenseman Terrance Amorosa to finalize the 3-0 score early in the game.
However, a high shot output and resilient defense were positive assets in the Wolverines’ performance, regardless of the game’s outcome.
And those efforts certainly didn’t go unnoticed.
“We knew Clarkson was a good hockey team coming in here,” Pearson said. “You know, they’re ranked ahead of us … and it’s hard to be on the road. But I liked our stay with it, that’s one of the positives I can take out of this. We stayed with the game plan, we kept pushing, we kept working. We just didn’t get any puck luck (Saturday). And some nights, it’s just going to go that way for you.”