On his first shift of the game, Thomas Bordeleau received a feed from Luke Hughes and pushed the puck in transition. He deked his defenseman, drove into the Michigan State zone and ripped a shot near side.
Just 54 seconds into the game, the No. 5 Michigan hockey team had already built a one-goal lead.
But they didn’t stop there.
The Wolverines would score again, and again, and again. After accruing four first period goals, a margin that put the Spartans well out of reach before the second period could even commence, it was clear they were prepared to dominate.
After Friday night’s game, it was crucial that Michigan get out to a fast start:
“The big thing for us was just getting off to a hot start,” junior forward Johnny Beecher said. “We figured they’d be pretty defeated after the first period if we were able to put a couple in.”
Despite advancing to the Big Ten semifinals, this game had other implications for the Wolverines. Since the Olympians’ return — sophomore forwards Matty Beniers, Brendan Brisson and Kent Johnson, and sophomore defenseman Owen Power — this felt like the first game that the entire roster clicked. Seemingly every line brought a newfound intensity during game two — something that was absent in game one.
And still, Michigan coach Mel Pearson continues to push his players:
“We’re getting there,” Pearson said. “There’s still a couple of things we need to get better at and some individuals who have to continue to get better and grow. We’re not quite there, which is okay, but we made some big steps since (the Olympians) have come back.”
The 8-0 victory should provide the Wolverines with a stepping stone for their postseason run. Michigan was as good as advertised Saturday night — its passes were much sharper, its skating was much harder and its physicality was that much more prevalent.
Six different Michigan skaters recorded multiple points and sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo chipped in two secondary helpers of his own. It was the type of balanced effort that should instill fear in opposing defenses. When the Wolverines play with this level of energy and confidence, there are few teams in America that can compete with them.
Midway through the second period, it was clear that Michigan was going to run away with this one. But that didn’t deter them from playing a full 60 minutes. The Wolverines kept their foot on the gas and ensured that there would not be a game three on Sunday night.
Michigan was able to score at will and in a variety of ways. During fastbreaks, it looked quick and poised with the puck, skating past Michigan State defensemen with ease. When the Wolverines set up in the offensive zone, they made even-strength battles look like a power play with effortless forechecking and puck possession. If the Spartans were charged with a penalty, it was only a matter of time before they allowed another goal.
Even after the lightning-fast start, Michigan players continually stood up on the bench and peered over the boards — eager for their next shift. Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ opponents looked deflated in their seats on the bench, as if the game’s result was a foregone conclusion.
Michigan had a palpable sense of urgency to get things right. There are still adjustments to be made and lines to be shuffled. At this point in the season, each game is magnified and the stakes are heightened.
“At the end of the day it’s win or go home from here on out,” Beecher said. “We have the team in this locker room to do something really special this year.
“We know this sort of opportunity doesn’t come along very often.”
It’s the sort of pressure that can only be induced by playoff hockey.