Making his season debut, Michigan junior forward Johnny Beecher tallied his first goal of the year with under two minutes left versus Michigan State, but it was hardly his only highlight of the night. Thanks to all-around efforts like Beecher’s, the Wolverines were able to power past the Spartans, 7-2.
Whenever the Michigan hockey team meets up with its in-state rivals Michigan State, expect a chippy game. The Wolverines and Spartans don’t get along well which leads to hard hits and 60 minutes of animosity. Some players shy away from that intensity, but this type of game is right up Beecher’s alley.
“Nice to have Johnny back, he’s a great young man,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Love to have him around, he’s got a great attitude. He brings another dimension to our team.”
For Beecher, it’s hard not to stick out. Standing at 6’3 and weighing 209 pounds, he makes his name heard through his size and physical brand of hockey. For the first eight games of the season, Beecher was absent with an upper-body injury. Tonight, he made his triumphant return. From the opening puck drop, his presence was felt.
Early in the game, senior forward Garrett Van Wyhe was charged with a major penalty and game misconduct for an illegal hit to the head. Down a man for five minutes, Michigan needed its best penalty kill to maintain the two-goal lead. Luckily for the Wolverines, this is Beecher’s calling card. While Michigan State attempted to enter the offensive zone, Beecher made an emphatic open-ice hit which delayed the rush. He made several other clutch clears which shut down any power play looks.
Moments later, he took the puck away from a Spartan blue liner and set up sophomore forward Matty Beniers for a breakaway opportunity. Beniers was stopped, but the smart play was one of many during Beecher’s spectacular first game.
“He’s huge, we were missing that presence,” Beniers said. “He skated really well, he makes plays, shoots the puck well. His physical presence was missed. We’ve got a lot of younger guys and he’s a veteran now… I think he’s a big help to the team.”
In his first shift of the second period, Beecher continued to generate offense. He drove in down the left wing, used his big frame to gain separation and put a shot on net. He didn’t reach the back of the net, but his efforts drew a penalty and set up the always dangerous Michigan power play.
Later in the second, freshman defenseman Luke Hughes made a dazzling move in the offensive zone which resulted in his third goal of the season. The play was started by Beecher’s faceoff win and he was rewarded with a secondary assist, his first point of the year.
“He’s a tough guy to match up against,” Pearson said. “Just really happy for Johnny. He gives us another penalty killer, can anchor another strong line for us.”
Pearson added: “That’s what I like, when we get all our lines scoring.”
Beecher was also excellent at the faceoff dot tonight. He led the team with an astonishing 80% victory rate, going 8-10 on the evening. By dominating the draws, he gave his talented teammates more possessions and scoring opportunities.
Beyond the box score, Beecher made a seamless transition from the injured reserve to the starting lineup. He hadn’t seen game action since last February versus Wisconsin, nearly nine months ago. Oftentimes, this type of hiatus can be hard to recover from, but for Beecher, his confidence was evident all game. Whether it was his fierce forechecking or hard-hitting, Beecher was in control of his shifts. He was poised with the puck on his stick and had two points to show for.
With senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg sidelined due to a lower-body injury, contributions from depth players like Beecher will help ease the loss. Tomorrow night figures to be another bloodbath in East Lansing, something that Beecher should look forward to.