BOWLING GREEN — After the clock expired on the No. 3 Michigan hockey team’s regular-season campaign Saturday night, junior forward Kevin Lynch took his time recovering.
When he finally emerged from the locker room, dressed in the standard post-game suit and tie that Michigan coach Red Berenson obligates, Lynch still looked winded, as if he had just stepped off the ice at BGSU Ice Arena.
Forgive the tired skater, though, because Lynch said he and the penalty-kill unit spent “a lot more” time on the ice than anticipated in the 3-0 victory over Bowling Green.
“If you kill off that many penalties, there has to be a lot of good (penalty kill) guys,” said fifth-year senior netminder Shawn Hunwick.
Over the course of the game, the Wolverines played shorthanded nine times, with five of the infractions coming in the first period. With that many penalty minutes, it’s nearly unthinkable that the Falcons weren’t able to capitalize. Rather, credit Hunwick, who Berenson frequently calls the team’s most important penalty killer, and players like Lynch, who sacrificed their bodies to earn a key blocked shot or clearance of the puck.
“That’s the only thing you can do on the (penalty kill) is try and get in front of shots,” Lynch said. “You block them any way you can, and that’s what I try and do.”
For Michigan, it seems as if the entire team is boosted by the success of the penalty killers. The momentum gained from a crucial penalty kill can rival that of a goal scored. Michigan’s mindset at times is that if the shorthanded unit has what it takes to fight off almost an entire period of consistent pressure, then why can’t an even-strength skater weave through a sea of defensemen? And Hunwick’s spirits are lifted by the extra effort of the penalty-kill unit in front of him.
“We just battled through it,” Lynch said. “The whole game was just an absolute battle. Our team pulled through it and that’s all that matters.”
Lynch’s play Saturday embodied the playoff hockey mindset that the entire team must adjust to before the CCHA quarterfinals begin March 9 at Yost Ice Arena. Hunwick said after the regular-season finale win that the Wolverines will use the bye week to prepare for playoff hockey, where the target on Michigan’s jerseys grow bigger with opponents’ do-or-die mentality.
On the other hand, Lynch skated on Saturday like it was for the league championship. His seventh goal of the season came with the Wolverines ahead 2-0 in the third period. On that tally, Lynch poked the puck past the Falcon goaltender while diving into the crease. He also added two very timely blocked shots with Michigan down a skater in the final minutes.
“(Lynch) was terrific tonight,” Berenson said. “He’s a playoff-competitor type player and he showed it tonight.”
Provided Lynch’s playoff mentality can carry into the actual postseason, he’ll have to catch his breath quickly because the ice time can mount quickly, as he found out on Saturday.