An unselfish play to define top-line chemistry

Tuesday, November 20, 2018 - 10:25pm

Junior forward Jake Slaker scored an empty-net goal in Friday’s 6-4 win with an assist from linemate Will Lockwood.

Junior forward Jake Slaker scored an empty-net goal in Friday’s 6-4 win with an assist from linemate Will Lockwood. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily

Most players, when presented the opportunity, would go for the goal.

Not Will Lockwood.

The junior forward stared straight down the empty net in front of him and cocked back his stick. Instead of skating in and shooting the puck, he instead gave it up to junior forward Jake Slaker who proceeded to score.

Think that was unselfish?

Now imagine that empty-netter Lockwood had passed up was the dagger to end a come-from-behind win against a top-five team in the nation.

Because in the No. 16 Michigan hockey team’s 6-4 win over No. 5 Penn State Friday — that’s exactly what happened. And there didn’t seem to be any room for unselfish play.

“It just goes to show the character and type of person that Will is. Really unselfish play, passed it to me for the empty net,” Slaker said. “He made the play, and I haven’t stopped to think, not just necessarily for giving me the goal, but just the unselfishness he displayed there.”

Slaker couldn’t describe what had exactly happened and struggled to find the words to explain it.

“You don’t see that often in sports, an unselfish play like that,” Slaker said.

But the situation presented itself.

Right before the goal, the Nittany Lions had made a push to tie the game at 5-5, but Lockwood skated in front of the shot and blocked it. With the loose puck leaking out, Lockwood took it and skated down the ice.

There was little time to think. Right behind them were Penn State defenders looking to deny the easy goal and keep the game close. But Lockwood and Slaker, with the early start, didn’t relent.

“Him and I were on a clear two-on-(none),” Slaker said. “And I think we were both trying to skate as fast as we could just so we wouldn’t get caught. And he could have easily kept on skating it and put it in the net but he just passed it over to me and made the easiest play, and we got rewarded for it.”

And as much as it defined Lockwood, he is not the only one who would have made that play. It’s the mentality that the team is trying to incorporate, to show the quality of players the Wolverines have on the team.

“I’ve seen instances where a guy won’t pass the puck,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “He’ll just go on and shoot it. I think it says a lot about the kind of teammates you have, but in this case, it says a lot about Will and his unselfishness and the team player he is. I think that’s a good thing for your team, it helps build your team’s camaraderie and trust in that.”

If it had been Slaker in that situation to choose between an easy empty-net goal or a pass to a teammate, he would have done the same thing.

“He’s one of my best friends on the team, and we have really good chemistry on and off the ice and just shows what type of person he is,” Slaker said. “And it meant a lot to me. Like I said, I’d do the same situation if I had that. If I could give him that, I’d give it right back.”

Added Lockwood: “I’ve played with Jake a lot, and I think he would do the same thing for me. I think it was more about just setting an example of how we need to play as a team. We’ve gotta be thinking of the guy next to us and not just ourselves.”

It’s an example for the rest of the fourth-youngest team in the nation to follow. As Pearson noted, a person has to be willing to put aside personal goals and agendas to be part of a team, and on Friday, no one exemplified that mentality better than Lockwood.

“You can tell. If you don’t like a guy or something, you probably don’t pass it to him,” Pearson joked. “But they have chemistry. I just think that just speaks to who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish together. And they’re in it for each other and not just themselves.”

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