Michigan's penalty kill cool under pressure
The Michigan hockey team has played in its fair share of close affairs this season. Five of the Wolverines’ eight games have been decided by one goal or less, including a 3-3 tie against Michigan Tech on Oct. 22.
In these types of tight contests, penalties can often make the difference. If one team is awarded a power play, it typically possesses the puck for most of the two minutes on that power play, which increases their chances of scoring.
But so far this season, when Michigan has been penalized, its penalty kill unit has neutralized much of that, allowing just four goals in 46 opportunities, which places it in a tie for the sixth-best penalty kill unit in the nation.
The group didn’t have a long time to come together, either. The mass exodus of Wolverines from last year’s team left Michigan coach Red Berenson with just one returning penalty-killer — senior forward Max Shuart — coming into this season. So he set out to piece together a new penalty kill with a certain type of player in mind.
“I look for guys that have defensive awareness, and even defensive anticipation,” Berenson said. “I’m looking for guys that are willing to put their bodies in front of the shot. If he’s going to shoot it, I’m going to come out and take the shot. I’m not going to shy away and get out of the shooting lane.”
Due to the attrition, Berenson has had to rely on freshmen like forwards Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker — possibly the most impressive players on the roster to start the season.
Lockwood, for his part, has thrived. The freshman has accrued two shorthanded goals already, placing him in a tie for first in the country.
“I think it’s just playing an aggressive penalty kill,” Lockwood said of the shorthanded success. “When you can pick a pass off and the other team is not focused on defense as much, you can make an opportunity out of the penalty kill. And it’s important to do that.”
The team has scored four shorthanded goals in total, with freshman forward James Sanchez and junior forward Tony Calderone scoring one apiece.
But despite the Wolverines’ success on the kill this season, they will face their toughest challenge this weekend. No. 4 Boston University’s power play ranks 28th in the country, which isn’t necessarily staggering, but the Terriers’ overall offensive firepower (they rank 10th nationally in team offense) is enough to have Michigan feeling pressure to be at the top of its game.
“They’re obviously a skilled group, and we know that we’ve got to hone in on some of their guys,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “Because if we give them the extra space, the extra two feet with their stick, or whatever it is, they’re going to make us pay with it. So it’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s something we look forward to.”