Penalties, inconsistency hamper Michigan in opener

Saturday, October 8, 2016 - 12:44am

Union outshot and won more faceoffs than the No. 11 Michigan hockey team. It committed fewer penalties and converted its power play opportunities. Much of the game was even played in the Wolverines’ defensive zone.  

Still, Michigan managed to hold off the Dutchmen until about four minutes remained in the final period, before ultimately losing 4-3. In the first frame, Union exploited the short-handed Wolverines and scored a power-play goal.  In the third, with a one-man advantage, it did the same. As they did in the first period, penalties led to the Wolverines’ downfall. At the 14:17 mark, junior defenseman Cutler Martin was called for a high sticking penalty, giving Union a one-man advantage. Soon after, Dutchmen center Mike Vecchione scored to tie the game at three. A few minutes later, Union broke the deadlock on a one-timer by defenseman Jeff Taylor.

The Wolverines racked up 10 penalty minutes in the first, giving Union six power play shot attempts and one goal. Junior center Tony Calderone especially struggled, spending four minutes in the box because of holding and hooking penalties.

Though it played seven freshmen in their first-ever regular season game, Michigan coach Red Berenson did not blame this choppiness on his team’s inexperience.

“I wouldn’t blame the youth,” Berenson said. “I think we got enough veterans between our juniors and seniors and even sophomores that have enhanced roles now.

“They have confidence in themselves and the young guys have to learn from their mistakes. We have to get better every weekend.”

By the second period, the Wolverines had calmed down. They found rhythm offensively and shortly into the second quarter, speedy right wing Will Lockwood netted his first career goal. And after a sluggish first period, Michigan avoided the penalty box entirely in the second.

It looked as though the Wolverines could pull out a victory in a game in they allowed 40 shots on goal. Then, in the third, the penalties returned. At the 7:45 mark, Lockwood earned himself a trip to the box because of a charging penalty. And with a few minutes to play, clinging to a slim lead, Martin committed his high-sticking mistake.  Though these penalties totaled just four minutes in the final frame, they proved to be pivotal moments in which Michigan needed their extra player.

“We like where we’re at (on power play defense),” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong.

“On a 5-on-4, it can be a two- or three foot little area that makes a big difference between giving up a seam and a goal, or being there and taking away that seam. There’s definitely adjustments and improvements we have to make, I like the base we have, and moving forward I think we’re going to be fine.”

Because of its veteran blue line — both De Jong and sophomore Nicholas Boka played significant minutes last year — Berenson chose to play 11 forwards and seven defenseman in Friday night’s game.

“We think we’re deep,” Berenson said. “We just thought it would be a good chance to get seven defenseman going. We did that quite a bit last year. Sometimes it gives us a chance to play some forwards more too. … It’s a way to play your better players more also.”

In its first regular-season game, Michigan showed it has tremendous room for growth. Its young players appeared passionate yet at times sloppy, while its returning players provided leadership but nonetheless totaled 10 penalty minutes. 

Friday night’s loss showed the Wolverines at their best: a speedy and aggressive team. And at their worst: an inconsistent and penalty-riddled squad.