Michigan offense finds new success against top-10 team
Prior to this weekend, the last time the Michigan hockey team had a bout with a top-ten team in the nation, it was swept in an effort that called into question its postseason prospects.
After this weekend’s sweep against then-No. 1 Notre Dame (16-5-1 Big Ten, 22-8-2 overall), all of those speculations were squashed.
Throughout the season, the thirteenth-ranked Wolverines (11-10-3, 16-13-3) haven’t had a perfect track record with offensive output against top-ten teams.
The aforementioned series — against then-No. 6 Ohio State — saw a complete shutdown of the system following a four-game win streak.
And Michigan was swept in its last series against the Fighting Irish, a weekend in which it let 70 shots fly with only two goals to show for it.
From January until the past two weeks, coach Mel Pearson had been religiously switching things up on offense with the goal of spurring more offensive output.
Sophomore James Sanchez, junior Brendan Warren and freshmen Dakota Raabe and Jack Becker have all taken more prominent roles.
“Well our guys were ready to play,” Pearson said on Sunday. “I mean, they were ready to play. That’s on them. That’s on our players. As coaches you can tell them some things and show them some things, but you’ve got to reach down in each individual and figure out a way to get yourself ready to compete and compete they did.”
As a supplement to the consistent performances from senior forward Tony Calderone — who had two goals on the weekend — all of these players have provided a spark to the lines that helped the Wolverines overwhelm the seasoned Notre Dame defense.
Calderone, senior Dexter Dancs and junior Cooper Marody have always been there as a crutch for the offense, but when they couldn’t find the back of the net, losing outcomes against the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish were unsurprising.
The scouting reports from that time could’ve said: “Just shut down the top line.” Ohio State and Notre Dame could confirm that statement.
But if this weekend can tell us anything, it’s that the Wolverines have outgrown themselves, even from just a month ago. What was a fractured front, easily picked apart by elite defenses, is now diverse.
Becker and Raabe’s 13 combined total points provide needed diversity.
And, the five total goals for Michigan this weekend against a Notre Dame team that boasts a shot percentage of 5.9 against and just 2.1 goals per game allowed proves that the previous glut against elite teams has passed.
“I thought it was a good hockey game,” Pearson said. “Either team could’ve won the game, we got the goal on the break when we needed it.
“ … I just couldn’t be prouder of our players. They worked hard, they worked extremely hard. There’s been some bumps in the road, but in the second half I think they’re starting to believe in not only themselves, but their teammates and what’s going on here.”
The entire multilateral Wolverine offense will have to replicate its performance from this weekend if it wants to find postseason success.