Wolverines master high-risk, high-reward system in win over Penn State

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By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 7, 2014

STATE COLLEGE — It was another classic in the series between the Michigan hockey team and Penn State.

Even if it was just the first-ever meeting between the two programs.

The Wolverines recorded their best offensive performance this year while Michigan coach Red Berenson moved into fourth place on the all-time coaching wins list in a 7-3 win over the Nittany Lions on Friday.

Highlighted by a second period in which both teams combined to score four goals in 3:41, a young and inexperienced Penn State squad was unable to mount a comeback after it exposed No. 10 Michigan defensively. Junior forward Zach Hyman and sophomore forward Andrew Copp each netted two goals, while freshman forward JT Compher added a goal and two assists to lead the Wolverines, which move back into second place in the Big Ten standings.

“It was not a 7-3 game,” Berenson said. “It was a whole different game, and it could have gone either way.

“I just thought (the Nittany Lions) were a lot better than their record, and I didn’t think we played the type of game we needed to play to be a better team on the road.”

In the inaugural meeting between the two teams since Penn State started its first year in the Big Ten, Michigan needed five minutes to learn how Penn State would play: high risk, high reward. The Wolverines never found a rhythm in the loud, brand new Pegula Ice Arena as the Nittany Lions kept forwards and defenseman up to apply constant pressure.

With a relatively small lineup and disorganized defense, Penn State preferred to keep its forwards up near the opposing blue line in hopes of putting more bodies in front of the net. The result was an incredibly strong forecheck that pestered the Wolverines in their own zone and increased the number of breakaways for both teams.

“I thought we were on our heels a lot,” Berenson said. “I can’t tell you how many odd-man rushes they had from the red line in. They got a lot of chances, and we were lucky our goalie was sharp.”

Added senior defenseman Mac Bennett: “Our defensive zone was sloppy. They’re just throwing everything at the net and they hope to bang in rebounds. We have to make sure that when pucks do get to the net, we have to box them out.”

Copp and Hyman scored on breakaway wrist shots from the high slot 50 seconds apart from each other in the second to give the Wolverines the momentum in the four-minute flurry.

The two tallies came after Michigan surrendered a pair of goals a minute apart that tied the game at two.

Nittany Lion forward Casey Bailey fired home his team’s first goal on the third rebound chance from goaltender Zach Nagelvoort. The freshman also struggled to corral the next shot when a slapshot from the left circle deflected off his chest and to the stick of Penn state’s Eric Schied for an easy tap-in.

Nearly 30 seconds after they tied the game, the Nittany Lions nearly grabbed the lead when Nagelvoort appeared to allow yet another rebound attempt. Penn State’s Connor Varley threw his hands up in celebration, but the officials waved the goal off after a review showed the puck didn’t cross the line.

Ultimately, Nagelvoort made 32 saves on 35 shots in his seventh consecutive start of the year.

“Zach stood on his head for the better part of that game,” Hyman said. “Without him, it could have been a different story.”

Just over six minutes into the game, freshman forward JT Compher jammed in a rebound when he was left alone near the left of the crease as Penn State pushed its defense forward.

Four minutes after Compher gave Michigan an early lead in the first, junior forward Alex Guptill fired a shot from the right circle to put his team up 2-0. His goal was Michigan’s first with an extra man in the past 19 opportunities.

Freshman defenseman Michael Downing added the fifth goal early in the third period, forcing the Nittany Lions to scramble in their attempt to come back from the deficit.

Penn State forward Zach Sarr’s goal did little to swing momentum as Hyman’s empty-net shot and Copp’s rebound tally late in the game sealed the game for the Wolverines, which mastered the high-risk system by forcing turnovers in the neutral zone.

“We still gave up too many chances tonight,” Copp said. “But we were able to finish tonight, which was a good sign for out team.”