Wolverines push past early stagnation in home opener
Sophomore forward Will Lockwood drove down the right side of the ice and threw down a deke that narrowly placed the puck through the legs of Vermont goaltender Stefanos Lekkas. The puck trickled over the line and gave Michigan its first goal of the contest.
With the finish in the second period, Lockwood ended what seemed like an endless scoring drought and opened the floodgates, as the Michigan hockey team went on to score three more times in a 4-1 victory over Vermont.
The Wolverines (2-1) hosted the Catamounts (2-3) on Friday in a game defined by firsts. It was the first time that Vermont had played in Ann Arbor, the first home game under coach Mel Pearson and the first game at the renamed Red Berenson Rink at Yost Ice Arena.
What was not unique about this game, though, was the high-octane tempo that has been commonplace in Michigan’s matchups thus far this season.
In the first five minutes of play, the Wolverines let nine shots fly. By the end of the first period, they would have loosed 17 total compared to the Catamounts’ five. And yet, none of those attempts found the back of the net. The barrage of shots was highlighted by Lockwood’s drive across the center of the slot, as his shot flew just wide of Lekkas.
“I thought we were just a little too deliberate with the puck,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We didn’t move the puck, we’d pass it, one guy would hold it and then we’d pass it and hold it.”
After a high-sticking call on Vermont forward Ross Colton with 12 minutes remaining, the Wolverines went on the power play but failed to convert on the one-man advantage.
Freshman center Josh Norris’ penalty shot with just over 12 minutes remaining missed high and wide.
Then, a slew of shots from the likes of sophomore forward Jake Slaker, fifth-year senior forward Alex Roos and senior forward Dexter Dancs could not seem to make it past Lekkas. The Vermont goaltender was bolstered by an aggressive defensive and offensive counterattack, headlined by forward Ross Colton, the Catamount’s leading scorer with four goals.
The Wolverines opened up the second period on the power play and were visibly less lethargic, as Norris drove to the net and nearly beat Lekkas in the opening minute.
With roughly 12 minutes remaining in the frame, Lockwood drove to the net twice, but again, came away with no goals to show for it. Michigan allowed just 15 shots the entire game, yet there seemed to be a disconnect in conversion from defensive prowess to offensive goal scoring.
Cecconi fired off a multitude of shots on Lekkas just over nine minutes into the period, none of which found the back of the net. The Wolverines’ frustrations clearly came to a head as Dancs and Slaker were called for back-to-back interference and slashing penalties, respectively.
“We had a lot of shots so we just kept going,” said junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi. “And we knew we were going to score and wear them down.”
Eventually, Michigan did just that.
Lockwood finally broke the stalemate 15 minutes into the second period. Senior forward Brendan Warren added another just over four minutes later off a wrist shot.
Norris opened up the third period for Michigan in similar fashion. Slaker started by taking the puck over the blue line and dished to Norris — skating down the center — for a quick one-two punch to tally the Wolverines’ third goal, and also scored the team’s fourth minutes later on a rebound of a shot from freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes.
Michigan’s relentless attack received a miniscule setback with just under 11 minutes remaining, when Colton placed a shot through sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne’s legs for the Catamounts’ only goal of the game. In total, Lavigne recorded 15 saves on the night.
The Wolverines would go on to shut down their foes, suffocating any further opportunities. While there were some early jitters that plagued the Wolverines’ offense, they found the factor needed to boost the early stagnation.