Three games into its season, the Michigan hockey team has yet to allow a power-play goal.
The penalty kill is a perfect 10-for-10. Include the two four-on-fours Michigan has endured and it becomes 12-for-12.
But what has been the secret to the Wolverines’ success on the penalty kill?
“Everyone doing the little things,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “People are getting in front of shots, getting the stick on the puck. They are where they’re supposed to be. They’re snapping back and circling, just doing the little things is allowing us to be successful.”
The players that typically play on the penalty kill take that to heart. They tend to be the grittiest, scrappiest players on the ice because of the constant hammering the opposing team’s power play inflicts.
Though mainly defensive, the penalty-kill unit consists of four players who are not all defensemen. Michigan coach Red Berenson said that on the typical penalty kill the Wolverines will rotate at least four defensemen and six forwards.
Of the normal penalty killers, Berenson highlighted the performance of junior forward Derek DeBlois and sophomore forward Travis Lynch.
Bennett echoed Berenson.
“They suck to play against in practice because they’re pesky,” he said. “We’ve seen it in games.”
Though Michigan has scored only one short-handed goal so far this season, it came at a pivotal time during the second meeting with RIT, when Lynch’s goal gave the Wolverines a 2-0 advantage.
“Not only does it motivate when guys are out there blocking shots, killing penalties and getting us back to full strength, but obviously times two when they’re out there scoring goals,” said junior forward Luke Moffatt.
Berenson added some other aspects of the penalty kill that he has seen so far to be a driving force in the success of the unit. With faceoffs constantly occurring in the defensive zone, he said winning the draw is crucial to clear the ice from the get-go. He also referenced the importance of the forecheck to either force the opposing team to dump the puck in the zone or to froce a turnover.
And the goalie is always there to man the last line of defense.
“If there is a breakdown, then your goalie has got to be able to make a save,” Berenson said. “He’s got to be your best penalty killer.”
Despite the question mark that has been lingering in the net so far, freshmen goaltenders, Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge, have played their part on the kill unit. They might be inexperienced, but that hasn’t been completely noticeable during opposing power plays. One of the biggest struggles for goalies during the penalty kill is to maintain possession and keep soft rebounds from finding the back of the net.
Both Bennett and Moffatt referenced the importance of being “disciplined” during the penalty kill, and that is exactly what the Wolverines have been. After the first loss to RIT where the Tigers tallied seven power plays, the players have fared much better.
Berenson said that some of the younger players have also found themselves playing significant roles, including freshmen forwards Andrew Copp and Justin Selman and sophomore forward Zach Hyman.
“It’s great that our penalty kill has been so good this year, but we don’t want to put them in situations in big games where we are down,” Moffatt said. “It’s just pressure situations and we just need to play more disciplined like we have been the last couple of games and work off that to become even better.”
Though it is likely that the perfect streak for the penalty kill will come to an end in the near future, the current success is a welcomed sight so early in the year.