Despite early struggles, Michigan cruises past Notre Dame, 5-1

Thursday, January 21, 2021 - 7:06pm

When the No. 8 Michigan hockey team and No. 16 Notre Dame last met in November, the Wolverines often found themselves playing from behind in their own zone, resulting in a series sweep. Michigan scored just three goals over the two games and failed to score first in either one.

Thursday’s game began no differently than the prior two: The Fighting Irish registered five of the first six shots on goal as constant turnovers and offsides calls prevented the Wolverines from getting into any sort of rhythm. 

But following a scoreless first period, the Wolverines broke through just over a minute into the second. Freshman forward Thomas Bordeleau deflected freshman defenseman Owen Power’s shot past Notre Dame goaltender Dylan St. Cyr to give Michigan (9-6 overall, 7-6 Big Ten) a one-goal lead it wouldn’t give back, leading to a 5-1 victory over the Fighting Irish (7-7-1, 5-5-1).

“Once you got the first goal and again that gives you a spark or ignites you, and I thought it did,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Just the bench and the energy, and we played, I thought, really well from that point on.”

Much of the early play was in Michigan’s defensive zone, and they took back-to-back penalties midway through the first period. But Michigan allowed just one shot while killing both penalties and went on to take control of the game.

“That was huge by our penalty kill,” freshman forward Kent Johnson said. “They’ve been really, a rock for us lately, and that got us some momentum.”

Earlier in the week, Michigan assistant coach Kris Mayotte said that in order to avoid the same outcome against the Fighting Irish as in November, the Wolverines couldn’t get frustrated quickly. Against a strong defensive team like Notre Dame, scoring chances would be hard to come by.

At the beginning of Thursday’s game, that was the case. But unlike in the last series, Michigan flipped the momentum before it was too late.

“We had a big emphasis on managing pucks well,” Johnson said. “Just trying to get pucks past their D and make smart plays in the neutral zone.”

A minute after Bordeleau opened the scoring, a neutral-zone tripping penalty gave the Wolverines a power play. Halfway through the man advantage, freshman forward Philippe Lapointe finished off a cross-crease pass from freshman forward Matty Beniers for his first career goal.

For a brief stretch following Lapointe’s goal, Michigan’s 2-0 lead looked to be in danger. A broken stick allowed Notre Dame forward Trevor Janicke to go on a breakaway, but freshman goaltender Erik Portillo turned his shot away easily. The Fighting Irish continued to challenge him in the minutes that followed, but Portillo — making only his second career start — wouldn’t let anything past him.

“We knew they were going to push there for a while and try to get back,” Portillo said. “I’m just happy I could come up with a save or two to keep the lead.”

With three minutes remaining in the second period, the Wolverines finally got some breathing room when sophomore defenseman Cam York skated the puck nearly the entire length of the ice, around the net and then found the back of the net with a wrist shot from the right circle. Johnson added a goal of his own prior to the end of the period.

In the third period, with the game all but decided, Johnson and Notre Dame defenseman Matt Hellickson traded goals.

Just as Mayotte advised, the Wolverines didn’t let any early frustration dictate their play and, in turn, picked up arguably their best win of the season.

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