It might be jumping the gun a bit after a game with CCHA bottom-dweller Western Michigan, but I saw something encouraging from Michigan last night – signs of maturity.
All year long, once the Wolverines fell behind or their opponent finished a big hit on a Michigan player, the young team has turned into a ticking time-bomb. Once the bomb exploded, the Wolverines committed bad penalties, failed to convert offensive chances and, ultimately, lost the game. In fact, Michigan was just 4-7-2 after giving up the first goal in a game and an abysmal 1-6-0 when trailing after the opening period.
Needless to say, it was hard to be optimistic when Western Michigan’s Jeff Lovecchio swatted the puck into a practically open net from goaltender Billy Sauer’s back side to give the Broncos the game’s first goal. And once Broncos defenseman Reid Yantzi gave his team a two-goal lead in the second, the Wolverines’ self-destruction seemed inevitable.
But Michigan finally restored my faith in its resilience, outscoring Western Michigan 7-1 in the final 33 minutes of the game.
This turn of events was even more encouraging considering the team’s reaction to an injury suffered by freshman Jason Bailey when he was hammered into the boards halfway through the first period. Bailey had just returned after missing four games due to injury and was reportedly unconscious when players and the team’s trainer arrived at his side. Fortunately, he eventually came to and was escorted into the locker room.
Many teams have come back in the past to win for a fallen teammate, but this Michigan squad has been better known for losing its patience and earning more bad penalties than goals. Even the Yost crowd was chanting, “We want Johnson,” looking for one of freshman Jack Johnson’s patented big hits.
But Johnson kept his cool and played to the best of his abilities, earning as many points as penalty minutes on the evening (2). Instead of playing recklessly, Johnson maturely executed clean hits, keeping the puck out of the Broncos’ hands on his way to a plus-three night.
And the whole team reacted in the same fashion. The Wolverines realized that they were the more talented team and used that talent to complete a Michigan rarity – a come-from-behind victory.
Perhaps the best example of the Wolverines’ new maturity was sophomore Chad Kolarik’s second goal, which gave Michigan its first lead, 3-2. The puck was caught down in front of Western Michigan goaltender Daniel Bellissimo –