Michigan’s strong start and finish make the difference in its victory
MADISON — The eventual game-deciding goal was the second one scored in the second period.
But despite its monumental impact, it was, in fact, the other goals scored in the Michigan hockey team’s 3-1 win Sunday that allowed the game to settle as it did.
Because both of the other goals were scored during the 10 most important minutes of the game — the first and last five minutes — the Wolverines were able to walk away with a win.
In the opening minutes of the game, redshirt junior Luke Morgan had nothing but space ahead of him. He skated up along the boards, entered the offensive zone and worked his way to the net. On his left side, freshman forward Eric Ciccolini was streaking towards the net.
When Ciccolini received the pass from Morgan, he didn’t hesitate to shoot. A second later, he lifted his arms in celebration.
But Ciccolini’s goal was just an exclamation point on a strong first period start by the Wolverines. Before Michigan was on the scoreboard, it was making tallies on the shot board.
The first five minutes set the tone for the type of game the Wolverines were going to play — shot after shot after shot. Michigan was forcing turnovers and winning nearly every faceoff draw it encountered.
It was doing everything, large or small, to make a statement. And to cap it all off, Luke Morgan’s goal put the exclamation point on a declarative five minutes.
“We’ve been talking about how we need strong starts,” said senior forward Jake Slaker. “And this whole weekend, we had two strong starts. This time we end up keeping it, and it’s great. The guys, we feel pretty good, and hopefully we’re going to get rolling.”
Sunday, this momentum and energy from the opening moments of the game were enough to carry the Wolverines through the second period without giving up a goal to Wisconsin like the night before.
Their strong start was enough to propel them through Wisconsin’s 21 attempted shots, just four of which actually ended up being on goal. When a Badger player had the puck, a Michigan player put his stick in the shooting and passing lane, slid and dove to block a shot or took the Wisconsin player off the puck.
“It’s so important for a lot of reasons,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Just because this team hasn’t given up on themselves. It’s easy with the losses we’ve had to start to doubt, but I give them credit. They come out, and they’re ready to play every game. (Tonight), we found a way to maintain the lead and escape with a win.”
And in the dying minutes of the game, the Wolverines applied the pressure necessary to squash the Badgers’ momentum in the wake of their late goal.
It’s easy to buckle when faced with tension and challenge — a situation brought up Saturday that ended up snowballing to an unanswered three-goal comeback by the Badgers.
So when the final five minutes rolled around and Michigan had to find out in what way they would respond to giving up the late goal, it looked to make one more statement. Just as it could aggressively open a game, it could, more importantly, close one.
When senior forward Nick Pastujov drew a five-minute major, putting the Wolverines on the power play for the final five minutes of the game, there wasn’t any need to go all out when an advantage was already gifted to them. But they did anyways.
“I thought we were good,” Pearson said. “I thought our leaders stepped up on the bench, we’re saying the right things. The message was good, and then they took that penalty shortly thereafter so that sort of dictated how the end of the game was going to go.”
With Slaker’s empty-net goal in the dying seconds of the game, his shot told the opposing team all it needed to know. Those five minutes were Michigan’s. Just like the first five were.
But for the momentum from this win to carry into the final weekend of this half of the season, Michigan will have to prove it can continue to not only start strong, but finish strong like it did Sunday.