Despite playing only one game in the past month, the No. 6 Michigan hockey team wasted no time making its presence felt against No. 10 Massachusetts.
“We didn’t really play that much in December” Brisson said. “… Obviously, it helps when you get those guys back like Matty (Beniers), Kent (Johnson), Owen (Power). We played a really good team game. All four lines were rolling. It was just a great team win and glad to have everyone back in the locker room.”
Just over one minute into the first period, sophomore forward Brendan Brisson reminded everyone what this team is capable of doing. He buried a one-timer off of sophomore forward Kent Johnson’s feed that sent the fans at Yost Ice Arena into a frenzy.
Michigan could’ve easily come out flat-footed given its hiatus, but Brisson’s tally set the tone for what became a fast-paced, high-energy and hard-hitting affair.
“Going into the game I didn’t think UMass was gonna be that physical,” Brisson said. “They definitely finished every hit from the start. But, we’re not afraid to back down.”
Both teams came out with an intensity reminiscent of a Frozen Four matchup, something that both teams have the tools to vie for this Spring. After almost every puck stoppage, the teams would exchange blows, eager to assert their physicality. Whenever a Massachusetts player approached sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo, they were met by a swarm of Wolverines.
However, the strongest aspect of Michigan’s play tonight was its first line. Johnson and Brisson were centered by their classmate, sophomore forward Matty Beniers. Between Johnson’s playmaking, Brisson’s shooting and Beniers’ overall play, the trio gave the Minutemen fits. The three had an odd-man rush midway through the third period, and Johnson received a beautiful pass from Brisson on the back post that he stuffed into the back of the net. The goal proved to be the game-winner, but they didn’t stop there.
Brisson closed any hopes of a comeback with his second score of the night late into the third period. Had it not been for two shots that rung off the post, Johnson would’ve finished with multiple goals himself.
“I mean obviously they’re three of the top players in the league and they definitely showed it tonight,” freshman defenseman Ethan Edwards said. “They’re always creating offensive opportunities. Their offensive chances tonight were amazing and definitely got us the win tonight.”
Beyond the first line, the Wolverines received hard-fought performances from each forward line and every defense pairing. In particular, sophomore defenseman Owen Power utilized all of his 6-foot-6, 214-pound frame to box out Massachusetts forwards. Despite his size, Power isn’t necessarily the most physical player on the team. Tonight, he demonstrated more body-checking and was chippier than usual. Perhaps his time with the Canadian Junior team helped, or maybe the Minutemen’s style brought it out of him. Either way, Power was a tone-setter for Michigan.
The Wolverines have National Championship aspirations, and taking down the defending champs was a way to prove themselves. They peppered Massachusetts goaltender Matt Murray with 40 shots and if they want to go deep in the tournament, a similar effort will be needed.
“We came to the rink knowing they were gonna be one of the best teams we’ve played so far,” Edwards added. “We just gotta come out tomorrow again and shut them down and do what we did tonight.”