By Alejandro Zúñiga, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 22, 2013
The crowd’s roar was a little tardy, and for good reason. It was the Michigan hockey team’s first shot of the game and only 34 seconds had ticked off the clock, but the fifth-ranked Wolverines and 5,592 fans at Yost Ice Arena were already celebrating a goal.
Michigan topped Niagara on Friday night, 6-0, and the team seemed to find twine at will in the blowout. Before many of the late-arriving supporters even took their seats, the Wolverines (8-2-1) held the lead.
Senior forward Derek DeBlois laced a perfect pass through the offensive zone, splitting the reaching sticks of two Purple Eagle defenders. The puck found freshman forward Tyler Motte, who wasted no time snapping a shot into the net.
It marked the fastest goal Michigan has scored all season, and the team rolled from then on. That’s been a staple of the Wolverines all year: they tally early and dominate the first period.
“That’s been the trademark of our good teams at Michigan,” said coach Red Berenson. “We’ve been ready and we’ve started strong, and then we’ve tried to finish strong. That’s huge. You look at the team that scores first in a lot of hockey games, and that’s the team that’s going to win the game.”
After Motte put the Wolverines ahead, the two teams played each other evenly for the rest of the frame. Both Michigan and Niagara (3-8-1) fired 10 more shots apiece, and freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort made several impressive saves as the Wolverines clung to the narrow lead.
But Michigan’s relentless attack swung momentum in its favor again before the intermission. With just under four minutes remaining in the period, Motte was pulled down while leading an odd-man rush. The freshman recovered and flung a pass to junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe, who attacked the crease before dropping the puck to a trailing Andrew Copp. The sophomore center’s quick shot buried itself in the net.
The referee waved his arms to signal no goal because the net had been jostled off its mooring when Motte collided with it. But after a lengthy review, the head official skated to center ice and gave a single, decisive point. It counted.
“I felt like I was going to get it,” Copp said.
The tally gave the Wolverines 11 goals in the first period of as many games this season. They have surrendered just two in that same span.
But even though Michigan got off to a quick start against the Purple Eagles, Berenson wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance until the latter two periods.
“We were giving up too many grade-A chances,” he said. “Our team was just out-of-sync in the first period.”
On Friday, the opening-frame fireworks weren’t needed down the stretch. In the second period, freshman forward Alex Kile pounced on a rebound to put the Wolverines up by three. Then junior forward Alex Guptill scored twice in fewer than three minutes of the final period to stretch the lead further, and Copp’s second tally provided the final six-goal margin.
Routs won’t come as easily — if at all — against tougher opposition, and Big Ten play begins against Ohio State on Friday. Shutouts are equally as rare. But Michigan has made a habit of scoring early and often, which even a reserved Bereson admits is a sign of a top team.