The Michigan hockey team had one more get-out-of-jail-free card — just one exhibition game stood between it and the start of its regular season. One more game where it could make as many mistakes as it needed without any consequences.

But if Monday night’s matchup against the US National Team Development Program had counted, the Wolverines wouldn’t have anything to be ashamed about.

The Wolverines flew past the USNTDP, 3-1, in a game that showcased a team completely transformed from its exhibition loss against Ontario Institute of Technology on Saturday.

The USNTDP took an early lead six minutes in with a goal by forward Nicolas Kerdiles, assisted by Michigan commit Jacob Trouba. And for a while, the game was an even matchup between the young high school players and the more experienced Wolverines.

But Michigan quickly dashed any hopes of an upset when junior forward Lindsay Sparks capitalized on a scrum around the net eight minutes later. After that, the Wolverines refused to give up possession.

Michigan kept the puck in the USNTDP’s attack zone for nearly the rest of the game — sophomore forward Luke Moffatt tipped the puck into the net on a Michigan power play in the second period and freshman forward Phil Di Guiseppe rounded out Michigan’s scoring more than two minutes into the third period.

By then, it was clear that the USNTDP wasn’t able to keep up physically with the Michigan players who were up to four years older than them.

“(The USNTDP is) a good team,” Moffatt said. “(There are) a lot of good players on that team. They gave us a pretty good game in the first (period), but we wore them out in the second and third and were able to capitalize on some chances.”

The Michigan forwards have their defensemen to thank for those chances. The defensive corps, which was visibly shaky over the weekend, clicked better on Monday with the addition of sophomore defenseman Kevin Clare to the line after giving the freshmen a chance to play on Saturday.

“(The defense) was playing more simple and not trying to do too much,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “The other night they were trying to beat guys one-on-one and causing turnovers and problems.

“Tonight we were making the simple play and that’s what we have to do.”

The Wolverines were also better prepared to capitalize on offensive opportunities. Michigan had a host of breakaway chances during the course of the game. And this time, the offense didn’t waste the opportunities, turning every dash to the puck into a full-out battle for possession. Berenson knows when there are that many players competing for possession, goals will soon follow.

With its last exhibition game under its belt, Michigan has a better understanding of its team dynamics and what it can expect from each line in future matchups.

“I think the lines will be a work in progress,” Berenson said. “I think they are getting some chemistry and a little confidence.”

Michigan plays the second of back-to-back games Tuesday against University of Niagara in its season opener, but the players know the only thing they have to be worried about is themselves.

“It’s the first game of the real season that’s going to count towards our record,” said junior forward A.J. Treais. “It’s on us now and it really doesn’t matter what the other team is doing.”

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