This weekend, Michigan freshman defenseman Jack Johnson showed why he was the third pick overall in last year’s NHL Draft. Besides his physical gifts, Johnson’s ability to step up his game when it matters most has the Wolverines riding high heading into Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA Semifinals next weekend.
Early in the third period of Saturday night’s game, Michigan found itself locked in a 2-2 tie, one great play away from sweeping Ferris State out of the playoffs and one bad bounce from facing a do-or-die game three against a scrappy Bulldog team that had beaten the Wolverines in Yost Ice Arena earlier this season.
Then Johnson rose to the occasion. The defenseman, who is as famous for his tendency to jump up and join the offense as he is for his board-shaking hits, found a seam and a scoring chance.
Johnson wisely followed Michigan alternate captain T.J. Hensick into the offensive zone. Once Hensick drew the attention of the Ferris State defenders, he softly dropped the puck back to an open Johnson, who skated in alone on net and snapped a shot over the glove of Bulldog goalie Mitch O’Keefe to give Michigan a 3-2 lead. The goal turned out to be the series clincher, and Michigan swept Ferris State out of the CCHA playoffs.
“I saw Jack cut through the middle, and I figured I might as well give it to the guy who has one of the best shots in college hockey,” Hensick said. “My eyes lit up when I saw him going in on the breakaway. I knew he was going to score.”
The Hensick to Johnson connection was a reversal of the Wolverines’ second goal. With Michigan trailing 2-1 midway through the second period, Johnson found space on the power play and carried the puck into the Bulldog zone. Johnson passed to forward Chad Kolarik, who immediately sent the puck to a waiting Hensick. The junior buried a shot past O’Keefe to tie the game.
Johnson’s presence on the ice was overwhelming all series long. Despite only getting on the stat sheet for one goal and one assist, the freshman was on the ice for a remarkable seven of Michigan’s ten goals this weekend. He was skating during just one of Ferris State’s five tallies.
Johnson’s great play, along with his high draft pick, was not lost on the fans at Yost Ice Arena. While seniors Andrew Ebbett, Brandon Kaleniecki and Noah Ruden took the home ice for the final time in their careers, the crowd was very aware that there was a chance they were seeing Johnson skate for the final time. They were determined to let him know how they felt.
In hopes of keeping one of the team’s best players in Ann Arbor, fans greeted Johnson with cheers of “three more years” in the pre-game introductions. The chants continued whenever the Ann Arbor native skated on the ice.
What did Johnson think about the crowd’s plea?
“I was aware (they were chanting),” Johnson said. “The only way you’re going to get me out of (Michigan) is at gunpoint.”
Back in action: Freshman Jason Bailey saw his first action this weekend since getting knocked out against Western Michigan on Jan. 31. After looking a little winded in Friday night’s 6-4 win, Bailey played a stronger game on Saturday. The forward was more physical — hitting whenever he got the chance — and made a nice move on net to draw a penalty early in the third period.
“It just feels great to be back in the lineup,” Bailey said. “As time went on (Friday night), I got better and better, my legs felt better, and I felt a lot better out there (Saturday night). I’m just happy to be back in the lineup and happy that we got the win.”
Loud and proud: The Wolverines were finally able to belt out a joyous rendition of ‘The Victors’ this weekend after three months of silence. That’s because the Michigan hockey team only sings after completing a weekend sweep of its opponent. The Wolverines’ sweep of Ferris State in the CCHA quarterfinals was their first since sweeping Nebraska-Omaha at home on Dec. 9 and 10.
“The best thing about it is we got to sing that song,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “We haven’t sung ‘The Victors’ since before Christmas.”