SAULT STE. MARIE — Coming into last weekend’s series against Lake Superior State, the No. 5 Michigan hockey team knew the outcome would be determined by a special teams battle.
The Wolverines had given up just two power play goals all year, both to then-No. 3 Boston University, while the Lakers’ power play was third in the nation and converting on an astonishing 30.8 percent of its chances.
But this weekend, Michigan turned Lake Superior State’s strength into a weakness.
The Wolverines killed off all but one of their 13 penalties on the weekend. The only goal occured in garbage time Friday night, when Lake Superior State forward Brad Cooper scored in a 5-on-3 situation, for the team’s lone goal of the night.
Michigan was forced to kill four penalties in the third period after the goal, but gave up an average of just one shot per penalty.
“If they get the next goal, the momentum could have changed,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said on Friday. “But they didn’t, our penalty killers were the difference.”
Despite the proficiency of the penalty kill, the coaches and players agreed they took too many penalties to begin with. When playing on the road, visitors can usually expect to be on the wrong end of some questionable calls, but Michigan supporters felt it was unnecessarily bad.
At one point, the Wolverine fans gave the refs a standing ovation as they sent a Lake Superior State player to the box after a long stretch of consecutive Wolverine penalties.
“We just got to stay out of the box,” senior defensemen Steve Kampfer said. “Some, you could say, are debatable whether they’re penalties or not. Regardless, we have to kill them off.”
The seventh-ranked penalty kill unit was led by junior goaltender Bryan Hogan. Fourteen of Hogan’s 63 stops on the weekend occurred when Michigan was down a man. A number of those shorthanded stops were on point-blank chances.
Lake Superior State had a lot of traffic in front on the power play, and sometimes put two men in front of the net to disrupt Hogan.
“There’s a lot of big guys, on that team especially,” Hogan said. “I’m just trying to look over them more and try to stand up more. You’re not really supposed to, but that’s the only way I could see the pucks.”
With the Michigan power play not clicking against Boston or in Friday’s game, it was up to the penalty kill to keep it close until the power play finally converted. Michigan had not scored a power play goal for eight periods, until freshman forward Chris Brown scored the eventual game-winning goal with the man advantage on Saturday. The Wolverines notched a second power-play goal later in the same game.
Another penalty kill by the Wolverines after Brown’s goal effectively closed out the game. After the two games, Lake Superior State dropped from third in the nation in power play to 18th.
How did they do it?
“Penalty killing is hard work and it’s sacrifice,” Berenson said. “It’s winning faceoffs and getting the puck out of our zone. It’s goalkeeping. … On a different night, we could have been down, but Hogan made the saves. Our penalty killers did a good job — our defensemen, our forwards, our goalie.”