While much of No. 6 Michigan’s core was away at the World Junior Championships, sophomore forward Brendan Brisson stayed with the team. At twenty years old, he was too old to make the cut.
But after scoring two goals against No. 10 Massachusetts on Saturday night, he showed his continued influence on how the Wolverines perform as a whole.
In Sunday’s final game to complete a sweep over the Minutemen, Brisson was electric from the get-go. Whether it was sticking up for sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo, rushing back on defense or firing shots on net, his presence was immense. Brisson’s forecheck and backtrack aided his line in dominating the Massachusetts defense.
“A lot of our chances in the line came off turnovers,” sophomore forward Matty Beniers said. “Forecheck and getting pucks back is huge for our line. We’re great with the puck, but sometimes it’s harder for skilled guys to get the puck back. We did that great this weekend.”
In the final minute of the first period, Brisson picked up a loose puck deflected off the Minutemen’s goaltender and buried it for the opening goal. This wasn’t the only time his name would be blasted over the arena speakers; Brisson’s work continued after the break, sliding the puck to a wide open Beniers and giving Michigan a 2-0 lead.
“He’s a sniper and one of the bigger goal scorers I’ve been around for 40 years of college hockey,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “Anywhere near him he’s got an idea how to finish. The puck follows him. The puck comes to him.”
Brisson’s defensive work also strengthened the Wolverines as a whole and gave them the edge. During a Michigan powerplay, a Massachusetts skater drove up the right wing; Brisson blocked his shot and didn’t let him get near Portillo. The Wolverines regained possession and took advantage of their extra man by tiring out the opposition and bombarding them with shots.
Brisson was still hungry in the third, earning four shots. In the final moments when the Minutemen had scavenged a goal, Michigan continued to find Brisson to design plays. He now leads the team with 14 goals, three behind Western Michigan forward Ethen Frank, the nation’s leader.
His influence was seen in all aspects of Sunday’s matchup. When a scuffle starts on the ice, Brisson is likely to be in the thick of it. By the end of the second period, he had spent 4 minutes in the penalty box. Brisson’s ability to get in the opponent’s head and win the psychological game is an underappreciated skill — which he displayed on numerous occasions on the night.
“He’s starting to play with more pace,” Pearson said. “I didn’t like his penalties tonight. He’s got to play with a little more emotional control. And that’s good because he’s getting his hands dirty. It’s just not the goal now.”
Brisson’s days in a Michigan uniform will likely come to an end when the season concludes, but it’s clear his respect and skill within the group will have a lasting effect. Opposing teams tend to have a tough day on the ice when Brisson is present — and they can expect it to continue when they play the Wolverines.
At least until the end of the season.