- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 3, 2013
1. Big Ten hockey is going to be fun.
The carpet was rolled out, literally, when Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dropped a ceremonial puck with Michigan captain Mac Bennett and Ohio State captain Curtis Gedigon on Friday at Yost Ice Arena.
With two contests flanking The Game between the Michigan and Ohio State football teams, the first-ever Big Ten hockey match ups between the third-ranked Wolverines and the Buckeyes were no less dramatic.
On Friday, with 16.2 seconds remaining in the second period of a tie game, junior forward Alex Guptill scored Michigan’s third goal. The Wolverines held off Ohio State for the first 16 minutes of the third period before allowing the game-tying goal to forward Max McCormick.
Then, with 1:22 left in overtime, sophomore forward Andrew Copp took a pass from senior forward Mac Bennett, found a hole and fired a shot past the Buckeye goaltender.
The largest crowd at Yost this season, 5,800 fans, roared with approval.
“It was definitely nice (to win) and definitely cool to see the fans on our side tonight,” Guptill said Friday. “It was just a lot of fun.”
On Monday in Columbus, Ohio State netted three unanswered goals in the third period to erase a 4-1 deficit.
Facing a potential second-straight overtime in the Wolverines’ (10-2-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) first Monday night game since 1982, Bennett scored the go-ahead goal with 1:35 remaining in regulation.
With some of the nations’ most highly-touted programs, the Big Ten promises to be as entertaining on the ice as on the gridiron.
2. Offense from the defense is key.
Two weeks ago, Bennett took time after practice to work on his offense. Alone on the ice, the captain fired shot after shot at an empty net.
Bennett’s game-winning goal against Ohio State — his first since March 9 — was the first tally from the Wolverine defense.
This weekend, when the power play failed to convert on five man-advantage opportunities in the series finale — snapping a five-game scoring streak and marking just the third time the unit was held without a goal this season — it was up to the defense.
The defense was also credited with the two game-winning assists this weekend. On Friday, Bennett’s pass to Copp secured the overtime victory, and Monday, fellow defenseman Mike Chiasson aided Bennett in the tally.
“You can see the difference it makes in a game,” Berenson said. “Our forwards aren’t going to score all our goals. Obviously when the defense scores, it’s a good sign.”
3. But defense from defense is crucial.
The Wolverines skated without a trio of defensemen — freshman Kevin Lohan and juniors Mike Szuma and Brennan Serville — on Monday, and it showed.
The deficit forced junior forward Andrew Sinelli to fill in on defense.
A penalty kill that began the season stopping more than 90 percent of power-play chances is down to just 80.3 percent. On even-strength opportunities the Wolverines have been beaten in the defensive zone, forcing the goalies to block more than 30 shots per game.
Michigan went 5-for-9 on penalty-kill situations this weekend against the ninth-ranked Buckeye offense, allowing three goals to cross the line in the third period Monday. And on Friday, the Buckeyes’ second power-play goal was a matter of freshman defenseman Michael Downing leaving his stick off the ice.
“Giving up three goals like that, it’s disappointing,” Bennett said. “Coach let us know in the locker room, and we know that too.”
4. Compher and Guptill have the hot sticks.
After two months of toying with line pairings, it appears Berenson has found a winning combination.
On a line with Guptill and senior forward Derek DeBlois for the first time against Nebraska-Omaha, freshman forward JT Compher netted his first goal of the season. Since then, Compher has tallied five goals and four assists in five games.
And on Monday, Compher recorded his fifth multi-point game of the season, scoring twice in the second frame for his first career multi-goal night.
“He’s just competing hard, and he’s going to the net,” Berenson said. “He's scoring hard-working goals, workmanlike goals, and I think both his goals were on rebounds tonight. But he had to get there.”
After a similarly slow start, Guptill — who was pegged by Berenson as a player in need of a breakout season in September — is feeling back in the groove. With an assist Monday, Guptill also tallied his fifth multiple-point game of the season. In 11 starts this season, Guptill has five goals and five assists.
“I’m a streaky player anyway,” Guptill said. “It’s nice to be able to use my momentum to help the team out.”
5. Bold Prediction: Michigan’s exhibition against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team will be decided by one goal.
Including the two one-goal victories over Ohio State, nine of Michigan’s last 10 games have been decided by a single goal. Over that stretch, the Wolverines have played four overtime frames and are undefeated in each.
Last season, Michigan returned to Yost after the New Year only to allow three goals in the third period to NTDP in an exhibition game, dropping the contest, 5-3.
That isn’t to say that Michigan won’t win this year. The Wolverines went 4-6 in one-goal games last season but already boast a 7-2 record in those contests this season. One-goal nail-biters aren’t ideal, but they count for a win as much as a blowout.
Plus, Michigan has then-NTDP standouts in Compher and freshman forward Tyler Motte — who tallied two assists and two goals in last season’s exhibition, respectively — in its starting lineup this time around.