SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — From the opening faceoff on Saturday, the No. 12 Michigan hockey team looked like a different team.
The grittiness that seemed to come only from Lake Super State on Friday was matched early on by the Wolverines. Coming off of the most physical game of the season, they had to make adjustments.
The first of those adjustments was putting freshman goaltender Strauss Mann in net. Both junior Hayden Lavigne and Mann have had their chances at the goaltender position, but Friday night was another poor performance amid a tough start to the season for Lavigne. Tasking Mann with facing a hostile environment coupled with the Lakers’ physicality was a big task to ask of the freshman, but a necessary one.
More roster adjustments followed: Freshman forward Jimmy Lambert was replaced by junior forward Adam Windborg on the second line, and freshman forward Jack Randl was a scratch, replaced by freshman defenseman Jake Gingell.
With these roster changes made, Michigan looked to rebound from Friday’s 5-2 loss.
Just like on Friday, sophomore forward Josh Norris opened up scoring. After senior defenseman Joseph Cecconi fired in a shot from the left point, Norris collected the rebound near the left faceoff dot and slotted the puck stick side past goaltender Marek Mitens. With that goal, Norris has scored in five consecutive games and recorded a point in each game of the season.
“I think you saw in the first period there, we were fairly physical ourselves,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “It’s a tough game and our guys showed up and played.”
Eight minutes of back and forth physical play ensued, only to be disrupted by a cross-ice pass courtesy of freshman forward Garrett Van Wyhe from the top of the left faceoff circle, which found open junior forward Jake Slaker for a one-timer that extended the lead to 2-0. Slaker, who was set up near the right faceoff dot, geared up and fired the puck past Mitens for his second goal of the series and fourth of the season.
A two-goal lead gave the Wolverines the momentum in the first period. They figured to take the momentum into the first intermission, but instead it was snatched away by the Lakers.
With 15.2 seconds remaining, Lake Superior State got one back. A slap shot came from the point and rebounded off Mann to his left side. The puck was collected, and forward Diego Cugglieta scored on an open net as Mann was out in front of the crease and had no opportunity to make the save.
The Lakers picked up where they left off 1:36 into the second period when a mix up in front of the net resulted in a goal, knotting the score at two.
Despite surrendering the two-goal lead and the momentum, Michigan was still playing with an elevated level of intensity. A response came four minutes later.
Sophomore forwards Jack Becker and Michael Pastujov found themselves in a two on one opportunity. Pastujov fired the pass across to a streaking Becker as he approached the blue line on the left side of the ice. Becker opted to shoot when he approached the faceoff dot, finding twine past Mitens’s right shoulder to regain the lead, 3-2.
From there, the goals continued for the Wolverines in the period.
Sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes scored a power play goal on a slap shot from the point when a pass from Norris found him in open space to extend the lead to 4-2. Six minutes later, Norris followed suit by scoring his second goal of the game on a shorthanded breakaway, going top shelf on Mitens to give his side a 5-2 advantage.
In a showcase of offensive firepower by some of the team’s stars, the performance of Mann –– who Pearson described as “unbelievable” –– when his team needed him most did not go unnoticed. Mann looked confident and even-keeled in the crease –– unfazed after losing the early two-goal advantage. He came up with several big stops throughout the course of the game and was aided by his defense’s improved performance compared to the previous night.
“Just his calmness, his presence in the net, his competitiveness in the net,” Pearson said. “I thought he was outstanding tonight.”
With the exception of a late flurry of shots resulting in a goal in the final minutes of the game –– making the final score 5-3 –– the defense and goaltending was as wired in and aggressive as it has been at any point this season.
Michigan’s response to the Lakers’ physicality was evident in their aggressiveness on both ends of the ice. Players finished their checks, sticks were more active and the puck was moving freely.
“I just don’t think we got caught up in their game,” Norris said. “That’s just how they play, that’s not how we play. We didn’t shy away from it, but we didn’t get caught up in it. In the end I thought we just played our game and got pucks behind their defense. I really don’t think they can skate with us, and you saw that by the end of the game, so I thought we did a great job tonight.”