The 2020-21 hockey season finally got underway, as the Michigan Wolverines were at long last able to debut their top-tier freshman class. These elite newcomers — as well as some returning faces — were clearly ready to go, dominating No. 15 Arizona State 8-1 on Saturday and 3-0 on Sunday to sweep the opening series.
Losses will come, but it is hard to pump the breaks when an extremely young team starts the season with a cumulative 11-1 score line. As mentioned in my preview, while the Sun Devils are a newer program, they are certainly on the rise; last season would have been their second straight in the NCAA Tournament, and they came into this matchup with a decent ranking as well. What the Wolverines were able to do against this quality opponent speaks more to their own skill level than it does to any struggles of the competition.
Fresh and clean
As a few of the freshmen might be the most talented players on the roster, it would be reasonable to expect some time before they are able to show off their true potential. That was anything from the case this weekend, however, as the kids exploded on the scene from the first period of the season and all throughout the two-game set.
Leading the charge were forwards Kent Johnson and Matty Berniers who tallied three goals and five assists between them during the weekend. Meanwhile, potential top pick Owen Power notched a goal of his own as an aggressive defenseman, while also adding in a couple helpers. In total, freshmen accounted for 16 points (!!) over the weekend and brought the energy every time one of the rookies was on the ice.
The third phase
This team is clearly talented at even strength, but is extremely fun to watch on the power play. Everyone seemed to know both their own role and also what to expect from their teammates, and the passing brought the type of movement that leaves penalty kill units without many options when trying to bunker down around the net. Michigan recorded a 4-for-10 mark with the extra man against Arizona State, and probably should have had a couple more, but all early signs were extremely positive.
On the other end, the penalty kill is not too bad itself. The Wolverines did concede the weekend’s lone goal while down a man, but the chances were mostly limited, and the unit also possesses a deadly counterattack with the ability to steal one on a breakaway. While the ideal situation would be to not spend much time in the box, there is a little excitement watching the kill, as there will surely be some shorthanded goals this season.
Miles of depth
If Michigan is going to compete for a championship this season, it will come down to the impressive depth on this roster. Sure, it is great to bring elite freshmen on a team with leaders such as Cam York (G, 2 A), Jack Becker (2 A), and Strass Mann (.970 SV%), but it takes more than a couple big talents to win in college hockey. Early results confirm that production is going to come from all over the lineup this season.
The Wolverines got goals from every forward line this weekend, and all three defensive pairings were up to the task, which is a great sign for a team whose strength lies in attack. Not every game is going to see Michigan put up a touchdown, but Saturday was a demonstration in the scoring potential up and down the entire roster. The top forwards will likely lead the way this season, but this is as complete of a team as the Wolverines have offered in a long time.