The Michigan hockey team, ranked No. 2 in both major polls, came into last week’s series at Penn State having won four of its last six games. But the Wolverines hadn’t quite reached the heights or dominance of their 4-0 start, during which they flexed their muscles against Lake Superior State and took down Top-5 opponents Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State.
Against the Nittany Lions, however, Michigan was comprehensive and clinical in a pair of victories, winning 5-1 in Thursday’s matchup and 6-2 to close out the sweep on Friday. The Wolverines (10-2, 5-1 Big Ten) ran their winning streak to four games and did so against the No. 19 team in the country, even more impressively doing so at the hostile Pegula Ice Arena.
Thursday night’s game was an odd one. Neither team placed a shot on goal until over five minutes had passed, even more unexpected considering Penn State’s shoot-from-everywhere offensive approach.
The Nittany Lions (6-5, 0-4) had a great chance to take a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, but Erik Portillo, who would finish with 33 saves, denied Penn State at every turn. He stole a goal from Connor MacEachern with a highlight-reel sprawl to his right, something a 6-foot-6, 230-pound man shouldn’t be able to make look so easy.
This was the theme Thursday: Michigan finished with 10 less shots than Penn State, but took advantage of its opportunities. Late in the first period, Dylan Duke won the puck on a forecheck behind the net and found Luke Morgan out in front for the Wolverines’ first goal.
Matty Beniers scored on a power-play snipe 35 seconds into the second period for a 2-0 lead that stood for the next 15 minutes. The Nittany Lions cut the lead in half, but Johnny Beecher drilled one home just over 90 seconds later.
Garrett Van Wyhe and Beniers finished off the scoring in the third period. Beniers’ second goal, a power-play wrister, came almost exactly like his first, with Kent Johnson and Owen Power providing assists once again. Power also assisted on Beecher’s goal.
Penn State once again outshot Michigan on Friday, as huge shot totals are the Nittany Lions’ M.O.. But stopping them was Portillo’s this weekend. The sophomore finished with 35 saves, and through 12 games this year, he’s saved 92.7 percent of the attempts his way.
Brendan Brisson got the Wolverines on the board first before Connor McMenamin beat Portillo to make it 1-1 early in the second period. That was as close as Penn State would come to competing, as Michigan scored the next four. Luke Hughes, Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau and Power turned the game into a blowout before the Nittany Lions could answer back, and Hughes scored one final goal with seven minutes left for good measure.
Michigan currently ranks first in the NCAA in scoring, fourth in shooting percentage, ninth in save percentage and third in power-play percentage. Johnson (four goals, 16 assists) leads the nation in assists and is tied for the points lead with two other players, with Power (3G, 15A) not far behind in both categories (second in assists, fifth in scoring).
Beniers (9G, 6A) is tied for 13th in scoring, while Hughes (6G, 7A) is third in scoring among freshman and fifth among defensemen. Brisson (8G, 5A) and Bordeleau (3G, 9A) are also scoring at a point-per-game clip.
Michigan didn’t do much wrong in State College, a perfect series for a team that has seen a few bouts of inconsistency since its statement weekend at the Duluth Ice Breaker. Next on the schedule is a home series against No. 15 Notre Dame (8-3, 2-2) this Friday and Saturday.