The opportunity that Michigan hockey head coach Mel Pearson and his team wanted was sitting right in front of them to be taken.
The Wolverines had beaten conference rival and No. 15 Penn State on Thursday night at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, 5-1, vaulting them into the middle of a tightly packed Big Ten race and getting their won-loss record back to the .500 mark.
Saturday night, Michigan faced the Nittany Lions in the series rematch at famed Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten’s “Super Saturday” game with a chance to build on their Thursday night victory.
Instead, Michigan played a first period that was literally the 2018-19 season in microcosm, leading to a 5-2 defeat to Penn State.
In the opening stanza Saturday night, Michigan widely outshot Penn State, 22-8, hitting four goal posts in addition. Defensive lapses allowed the Nittany Lions to convert on three of their handful of shots on goal. The result never was in doubt after the opening 20 minutes.
“Disappointing outcome, especially after Thursday night’s game,” said a clearly frustrated Pearson after Saturday’s game. “I can’t tell you our team wasn’t prepared to play. I thought we had a pretty good first period, outshot them, out-attempted them, 32-16. Hit four posts, but we didn’t make a commitment to team defense. We made some horrendous turnovers. They took advantage of it. That was the game.
“They got the lead, 3-0, and we couldn’t outscore our mistakes tonight. Most nights you’re not going to. We did not get the result we wanted. Very frustrating in the locker room because we know we’re a better team [than we showed]. We beat ourselves tonight, plain and simple.”
Michigan redshirt sophomore forward Luke Morgan scored his fourth goal of the season in the second period and junior forward Will Lockwood added a goal in the third period.
To position themselves to take advantage of Saturday night’s game in Manhattan, Michigan put together the type of win they had been seeking in Thursday night’s victory over Penn State.
The Wolverines took advantage of goals by four different skaters: sophomore forward Dakota Raabe’s fourth, junior forward Jake Slaker’s tenth, junior defenseman Nick Boka’s second, Lockwood’s ninth and freshman forward Garrett Van Whye’s second.
“As coaches, we were concerned that we had eight, nine days off from game play,” Pearson said postgame Friday. “We had guys going to class up until 2:30 today. We had to show up at 5:30 to play a team that flew in last night. We got through the first period. Hayden [Lavigne] did a good job [in goal]. We got to the second period and started to play. Huge three points in the standings.”
Lavigne, the junior goaltender, made 37 saves to safeguard the Wolverine victory.
“We did a lot of the things you need to do to win, especially blocking shots,” Pearson said. “We competed harder in battles. We got good goaltending from Hayden.”
“At Ohio State, we gave up one goal there; Notre Dame, two goals on the road, so we’re starting to play much better defensively than the first half of the year. That’s the key to this team. When you win some of those games, you get more buy in. ‘The coaches really know what works’.”
Thursday’s solid defensive performance made Saturday night’s effort that much more discouraging. Only three of Michigan’s final nine games are in the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena and lots of ground in the Big Ten standings exists to be made up.
First Star — Junior forward Will Lockwood
Lockwood scored in both weekend games and gave the Wolverines a consistent offensive presence.
Second Star — Freshman forward Jimmy Lambert
Lambert set up Friday night’s first two goals when the game was most in doubt.
Third Star — Freshman forward Nick Blankenburg
Blankenburg’s slick skating maneuver nearly broke a Penn State defender’s ankles before he set up Boka on Friday night’s third Wolverine goal. That move alone was worthy of star status.
“When you give up one goal against, you’ll have a chance to win a lot of hockey games.”
— Michigan head coach Mel Pearson on Thursday night’s defensive effort and goaltending
A pair of games in 3M Arena at Mariucci against Minnesota awaits Michigan next Friday and Saturday. The Gophers have lost three of their last four in their quest to move up in the topsy-turvy Big Ten standings. Minnesota split a pair of contests with Wisconsin this weekend after being swept by Michigan State last weekend in East Lansing.
Michigan State 3 at #11 Notre Dame 6 (Fri)
Michigan State 1 at #11 Notre Dame 1 OT (Sat)
Wisconsin 4 at Minnesota 9 (Fri)
Wisconsin 4 at Minnesota 3 (Sat)
Ohio State idle