Michigan defeats USNTDP 6-3 in exhibition matchup
In its first tune-up of the season, the Michigan hockey team faced off against Windsor in a preseason game before beginning its regular slate. After a preseason filled with injury and uncertainty, freshman forward Nick Pastujov played for the first time against the Lancers, and with two minutes remaining in the first period, he scored the Wolverines’ first goal of the season on the power play.
Since that exhibition game, Pastujov has been held scoreless. Friday night, though, he found the net, and in an exhibition once again. With the game tied at two in the third period, freshman forward Steven Merl crossed the puck to the middle toward Pastujov, who knocked it past U.S. National Team Development Program goaltender and Michigan recruit Dylan St. Cyr for a 3-2 lead, one the 18th-ranked Wolverines would never relinquish, as they defeated the USNTDP at Yost Ice Arena, 6-3.
“I thought that this was far and away Nick Pastujov’s best of the game of the year,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “And it came at a good time, and hopefully it’ll carry on into next week.”
Two other Wolverine recruits played in the game for the USNTDP: center Josh Norris — a good friend of Michigan forward Will Lockwood — and defenseman Quinn Hughes.
“It was cool,” said freshman forward James Sanchez. “It was good to see what they got, and what they’re going to bring next year.”
For the first 10-plus minutes, the game moved rather slowly, with the teams nearly even in shots. Then with about six minutes remaining in the period, Lockwood earned a trip to the penalty box for hooking.
The Wolverines looked to kill the penalty — a task they excel at, with a 91.1-percent success rate heading into Friday night’s game — as they cleared the puck to the opposite zone with 11 seconds remaining on the power play. St. Cyr held the puck and waited for his teammates as the power play time ticked off.
Hughes skated toward the net and grabbed the puck before seeing a hole in the Michigan defense and passing the puck to a wide-open Jacob Tortora, who slapped it past senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort for his ninth goal of the season. The USNTDP held onto that lead heading into the first intermission.
In the second period, though, the Wolverines answered quickly. Guarded by junior forward Dexter Dancs, Hughes attempted a pass, but Lockwood interfered with it. The puck bounced off his foot, and as he has done throughout the season, Lockwood used his blistering speed to his advantage. He skated all the way from the Wolverines’ face-off circle to break away from the USNTDP defense, which never stood a chance, as Lockwood sniped the puck into the top of the net to even the score at one.
“I thought we played well,” Pastujov said. “We were there last year, so we know no matter what the score is, we know they’re going to put up a fight ’til the end, and that’s what they did. I thought it was a good, high-paced, really smooth game.”
The USNTDP remained focused against its older opponents and continued to play aggressively throughout the game. With about a minute remaining in the second period, it pressed forward on offense. Norris skated to the Wolverines’ offensive zone and passed the puck across the ice to forward Brady Tkachuk. Tkachuk then hesitated, before feeding it to Tortora in the middle, who then backhanded it into the net to take the lead once again.
Michigan quickly responded and tied the game up about 20 seconds later. Senior right wing Alex Kile zoomed to the USNTDP’s zone and fired a long pass to Luke Martin, who slapped the puck toward the goal. Fortunately for the Wolverines, freshman forward Adam Winborg managed to get his stick on it, tapping it in to tie the game at two.
It took until the third period for Michigan’s offense to really click. Two minutes after Pastujov’s early goal, Sanchez stole the puck in the corner of the USNTDP’s zone and deked out St. Cyr to make it a 4-3 game with his first goal of the third. His second came with five seconds remaining in the period. Kile added a goal off a pass from Winborg at the 15:59 mark.
“The game is on the line on the third,” Berenson said. “Tonight I didn’t think we got off to a good start. A week ago on Saturday we had a great first period, so-so second and not a good third. Tonight I thought our best period was the third. You want to be able to close out a game. … It was a tie game after two (periods) and we went up and got the next two goals, and we had the momentum.”
Michigan plays at Yost next Friday to begin its series against Lake Superior State.