On a roster littered with NHL talent, Johnny Beecher can get lost in the shuffle. Despite being one of the most pro-ready prospects on the No. 4 Michigan hockey team, the junior forward hadn’t recorded a goal since an early January series with Massachusetts. Still, both of his goals came on an empty net.
Everything changed last Saturday versus Michigan State.
Early in the second period, Beecher drove into the Spartans’ defensive zone down the left wing, went in on net and ripped a shot through goaltender Pierce Charleson’s five-hole. He circled the net and snapped his stick over his knee — the drought was finally over.
In terms of the game, it was a largely meaningless goal. The Wolverines had already accumulated a four-goal lead and Beecher’s tally was merely an exclamation mark on a Big Ten quarterfinals series victory.
But, for Beecher — and for Michigan’s future — the goal carried great importance. It was one that he so desperately coveted and one that could potentially jumpstart the rest of his season.
“We need Johnny Beecher,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We need him to be an effective player… just do what you’re good at. And with Johnny, that’s using his speed, using his body, using the shot that he has to create offense.
“When he does that, he’s a load. It’s hard to contain him.”
Beecher has mostly centered freshman forwards Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke on the Wolverines’ third line. If this line is on its A-game, Michigan can legitimately roll four skilled lines. Duke is a courageous forechecker and loves to do the dirty work down low; Samoskevich is one of the top skaters and puck handlers in the conference.
But, they’re both freshmen. They lack the experience that Beecher possesses. He has to be the guy that drives that line.
It’s something that Pearson is more than aware of.
“I think it’s really important for a guy like Johnny (Beecher) to feel good about himself and have some confidence,” Pearson said. “He’s one of the most lovable guys on the team. They just really enjoy him. He’s sort of one of those guys that makes our team go.”
Against top competition, top-heavy rosters will falter. In order to go on a deep playoff run, everyone has to click and every line has to contribute.
That isn’t to say that Beecher’s game solely relies upon scoring — he can affect the game in a variety of ways. He’s been a useful penalty killer and forechecker this season. When he utilizes his size and aggression, he can disrupt defenses and cause havoc in transition. His fearlessness contributes to his role as an enforcer — there are few skaters in the country that could intimidate Beecher.
It doesn’t mean there haven’t been challengers, though.
Notre Dame has found great success with its physicality and depth against the Wolverines. The Fighting Irish may not have the professional prospects to match Michigan, but their relentlessness has caused issues for the Wolverines — issues that have resulted in four consecutive Michigan losses.
On Saturday night, Notre Dame will vie for the season sweep. But, there’s an even greater reward at stake: a trip to the Big Ten Championship. For Beecher, it’s an opportunity to build some much-needed momentum as the NCAA Tournament looms in the foreground, while simultaneously boosting the Wolverines’ Big Ten hopes.
“He’s going to be a real key for us,” Pearson added. “That line has been fantastic and a lot of it’s because of Johnny (Beecher).”
In the coming weeks, Beecher’s play will help dictate exactly how far the Wolverines can go. If he plays up to his abilities, a Frozen Four appearance could be in sight. If not, Michigan may face yet another early exit.