No. 13 Michigan overcomes Arizona State, 5-3

Friday, February 23, 2018 - 9:47pm

Sophomore forward James Sanchez scored two goals in Michigan's 5-3 win on Thursday.

Sophomore forward James Sanchez scored two goals in Michigan's 5-3 win on Thursday. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily

The Michigan hockey team is close to the postseason.

All the 13th-ranked Wolverines had to do was not falter against Arizona State this weekend — one of the worst teams in Division I hockey — and they’d inch even closer to the NCAA Tournament, a goal they’re tantalizingly close to achieving.

At times in Friday’s game, that seemed easier said than done, but Michigan (11-10-3 Big Ten, 17-13-3 overall) rallied to beat the Sun Devils (8-19-5), 5-3.

Less than a minute into the game, sophomore defenseman Luke Martin gave the puck away in the Wolverine zone, and Arizona State’s Johnny Walker put it past sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne on the third shot of the game.

“That was just a bad clear by one of our defensemen there,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Forward didn’t come back to the puck, and we just allowed them to shoot. And he can shoot it, that kid Walker.”

Michigan responded just over three minutes later, though. Sophomore forward Cooper Marody, the Wolverines’ leading point scorer, stepped around a few defenders as drove into the offensive zone. He drew another defender toward him as he got near the crease, so he fired a pass to the other side of the net, where sophomore forward James Sanchez was waiting to finish up the chance, squaring the score at one.

From there, the Wolverines started to pull away. Sanchez scored the next goal on a rebound off the post, freshman forward Michael Pastujov scored after that, stuffing it in from point blank, and junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi ripped a slapshot from the slot to make it 4-1 with 13:24 left in the second period.

But the Sun Devils crawled within reach.

Michigan couldn’t stay out of the penalty box, and Walker scored a power-play goal with less than two minutes left in the second period. Then, late in the third, Brett Gruber capitalized on another Arizona State power play to make it a one-goal game.

Some clutch saves from Lavigne and an empty-net goal from freshman forward Dakota Raabe with 48 seconds left closed it out for the Wolverines, but their seven penalties — four in the third period — kept the game close.

Added Sanchez: “They were kind of calling everything — a lot of goalie interference and stuff like that, but, I mean, the guy comes out and plays the puck. Some were iffy, but we’ve just got to make sure we stay out of the box and keep playing our game.  

“Coach Pearson keeps saying, like, ‘Stay on the ice, stay on the ice, play five-on-five.’ But we’re giving them chances to win if we’re in the box. So we’ve just got to tighten a few things, and we’ll be fine.”

Michigan had its issues throughout the game. The penalties, and the penalty kill, were obviously one of them. But even beyond that, the Wolverines finished the game even with the Sun Devils in shots, 33-33. That’s especially shocking because Arizona State’s offense is ranked 52nd out of 60 Division I teams.  

When all is said and done, though, Michigan did what it had to do. Pearson emphasized that in the opening statement of his postgame press conference, saying “the bottom line is that we did get the win.”

Even if there are areas for improvement — and there are — the Wolverines will head into Saturday’s season finale maintaining their status as an NCAA Tournament hopeful.

That, too, is much easier said than done.