Michigan had a weekend sweep within their grasp, but couldn’t hold onto a third-period lead against fourth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday night, splitting a weekend series with the Buckeyes in Columbus.
After a stalwart defensive effort produced a 2-1 win on Friday, the Wolverines gave up two mid-third-period goals to Ohio State to fall short of the weekend whitewash, 4-2, on Saturday night.
On Friday, junior forward Jake Slaker slapped home an unassisted second-period goal to tie the contest at 1-1. Later in the frame, junior forward Will Lockwood converted for the Wolverines from junior forward Nick Pastujov and sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes in what proved to be the game-winner.
“I’m really happy for our players. Proud of them, especially with the short turnaround. We had to come into a place to play a top-10 team in the country,” Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said of the Friday result. “A lot of critical moments in the game; killing off the five on three; Nick Pastujov with some great faceoffs near the end of the game; Hayden Lavigne with some key saves; a lot of blocked shots. A gritty win in a tough place to play. We’re happy with the win, but we’re not satisfied.
“They [Ohio State] had seven seniors, seven juniors in their 18 skaters. I don’t think they dressed a freshman tonight. We’re littered with freshmen and our guys came in here and did a heck of job.”
“It’s a huge win” Lockwood added. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season. To get that win is key. This was against a team that had their way with us last year.”
Lockwood and freshman Jimmy Lambert supplied the goals, both assisted on by senior defenseman Joe Cecconi, that gave the Wolverines a brief 2-1 lead in the third period on Saturday. That lead only lasted 28 seconds before the Buckeyes went on a two-goal run and added an extra empty score just before time
“First and foremost, I thought we played hard this weekend,” Pearson said, summarizing the series. “We competed hard. We held the No 4 or 5 team, whatever they are in the country, to 23 shots last night and 20-some shots tonight. They’re averaging 38. I thought we played a real solid game defensively and got good goaltending. It came down to a couple breaks tonight; a couple poor plays on our part and good plays on their part.
“Normally, we make those plays and that’s what’s frustrating because we got the lead, 2-1, and the very next shift they came out and scored. That next shift has to be important. It’s got to be a momentum shift. I feel bad for our guys because they worked so hard. They deserved better, but that’s sports and that’s where we are.”
Junior netminder Lavigne provided solid goaltending for Michigan both nights, making 22 saves in the opening game on Friday and 18 on Saturday.
“Last year we were 0-5 against Ohio State,” pointed out Cecconi after Friday’s Michigan win. “This year, we beat them. Huge points for us.”
1st star — Junior forward Will Lockwood
Pacing the Wolverine offensive attack, Lockwood scored his seventh and eighth goals of the season and fired three shots on goal each night.
2nd Star — Sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes
Hughes returned from his fortnight playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships to add his puck-controlling efforts to the Wolverine cause. The Michigan blue-liner assisted on both Lockwood weekend goals.
3rd Star — Junior forward Nick Pastujov
In addition to assisting on Lockwood’s Friday game-winner, Pastujov won several key faceoffs late in the third period of Friday’s Michigan win.
“If you could bottle the effort you have in victories, you’d be a billionaire. You’d sell it to every team.” — Michigan head coach Mel Pearson after Michigan’s 2-1 win over Ohio State on Friday night
The Wolverines take a breather next weekend, Jan. 18-19, before returning to the ice on Thursday, Jan. 24 at Yost Ice Arena against Penn State.
Two days later, Michigan travels to New York City’s iconic hockey/basketball venue Madison Square Garden to complete the two-game weekend series with the Nittany Lions on Jan. 26. Penn State is currently ranked 11th nationally.
@#11 Penn State 4, Michigan State 2 (Fri.)
Michigan State 6, @#11 Penn State 4 (Sat.)
Minnesota 5, @#9 Notre Dame 1 (Fri.)
Minnesota 2, @#9 Notre Dame 1 (Sat.)
USNTDP Under -18s 6, @Wisconsin 2 (Sat. exhibition)