Wolverines survive back-and-forth contest against Mercyhurst
It was late in the second period, and the Michigan hockey team was facing a threat. Mercyhurst had just tied the game at two.
But 16 minutes into the frame, freshman forward Kyle Connor came to the rescue.
The Michigan rookie found space on the right wing and sniped the side netting to light the lamp and give the Wolverines a 3-2 lead.
Michigan didn’t look back from there, and in a gritty, back-and-forth, game, that score held for the 11th-ranked Wolverines (2-0).
“I liked the way that we battled at the end,” said junior center JT Compher. “We were winning races, getting pucks out and playing the way that we’ve been talking about for the last month — good defensive hockey. I liked that better than scoring six or seven goals.”
The Wolverines commanded play in the first period, but it took them 17 minutes to find the back of the net.
After junior defenseman Michael Downing fired a shot just inside the blue line, junior forward Alex Kile found himself in the right place at the right time. The puck rebounded down near the crease, and Kile found twine to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
The even score line prior to the goal was far from indicative of Michigan’s performance in the opening 20 minutes.
The Wolverines applied pressure and prevented Mercyhurst (2-0 Atlantic Hockey Conference, 3-3 overall) from maintaining any legitimate possession in its offensive zone while outshooting the Lakers 19 to five.
Michigan’s most dangerous offensive opportunities in the first frame came off the stick of Compher.
In the 10th minute, the Wolverine captain picked up the puck at center ice and beat a Mercyhurst defenseman one-on-one before firing a shot just high of the net.
Despite missing the target, Compher’s shot almost found the net — rebounding off the glass and deflecting off of Mercyhurst goaltender Brandon Wildung’s shoulder just wide of the net.
Just minutes later, Compher generated a similar threat, once again using his stick skills to break through the defense before whipping a shot that was corralled by Wildung.
But Michigan’s dominance to open the game didn’t last long.
Two minutes into the second period, the Lakers took advantage of a power play to even the game at one. Though junior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort deflected the first effort by forward Kyle Cook, the puck fell in front of the net and forward Jack Riley finished an easy tap-in.
The Wolverines responded quickly. Four minutes later, junior center Max Shuart picked up a puck on the left side of the ice and attacked a two-on-one situation. He threaded the needle to junior forward Evan Allen, who coolly finished to recapture the lead.
It seemed as if Michigan couldn’t hold onto any lead it gained, however.
Just six minutes after Allen’s goal, the Wolverines were caught in a dangerous two-on-one situation of its own.
Mercyhurst forward Taylor Best caught the Wolverines on a counter and carried the puck into the offensive zone, drawing the coverage of sophomore defenseman Cutler Martin, before firing on goal. Nagelvoort made the initial save, but his sprawling effort on the rebound wasn’t enough, as forward Jonathan Charbonneau put it away to tie the game for a second time.
Though Michigan tallied 45 shots, Connor’s was the final goal of the night, as neither team could find twine in the third period.
The Wolverines’ lead was in jeopardy at one point of the final period, however. With five minutes left in the game, Martin was sent to the penalty box for interference. But Michigan’s penalty killing unit went to work, allowing the Lakers only one shot and earning the approval of Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“Everybody was dialed in. We fronted the shots or blocked shots, and we didn’t give up any good shots,” Berenson said. “There’s a part of the game (when) you can sense desperation, and I like our team when we play with desperation. That was part of (the penalty kill).”
After allowing four goals on Friday, the Wolverine defense was stifling, allowing just 21 shots to Mercyhurst — a result of Berenson’s decision to replace forward Niko Porikos with junior defenseman Kevin Lohan.
Nagelvoort, who replaced Friday’s starter Steve Racine in net, anchored the defensive unit with 19 saves — including a barrage of shots just in front of net during the final minutes of play.
While the Wolverines weren’t perfect, they finished their season-opening homestand with the number two in the win column. And in comparison to last season’s shaky start, Michigan will take the victories, perfect or not.