If the Michigan faithful were concerned their team might be a little rusty after a 21-day pause related to COVID cases, the first period didn’t do a lot to put them at ease.
The Wolverines were outshot, 11-7, including 8-1 in the early going, and trailed 1-0 on a Mathieu De St. Phalle goal.
But that’s why hockey is a three-period game and an explosive, four-goal second period combined with a late third period goal turned a 1-0 deficit through 20 into a 5-1 victory for No. 8 Michigan over No. 7 Wisconsin.
“We needed to jump in the ring and get hit a couple of times,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson when asked about the rust his team showed early on. “You could tell we were rusty at the start and could tell we hadn’t played in three weeks. [Goaltender] Eric Portillo did a really good job of keeping us only down 1-0 after the first period.”
Portillo, a freshman from Gothenburg, Sweden, made just two starts prior to Saturday. And after a 21-day pause, the decision to go with the rookie as opposed to standout Strauss Mann seemed curious. It certainly paid dividends, though, and it all happened because of a little bit of superstition from the head coach.
“We’ve been splitting them,” said Pearson, who gave Portillo starts in each of Michigan’s two series prior to the pause. “But I was riding in two days ago to work, and we have this huge video billboard. And who is the player they have on the billboard to preview the weekend series with Wisconsin? Who is it? It’s Eric Portillo.”
That made Pearson’s decision for him. Asked it he is generally very superstitious, Pearson generalized saying, “Aren’t all hockey people a little superstitious?
“I mean, I don’t drive the same way to the rink every day, I don’t wear the same tie every day. But I have some level [of superstition]. Most of us do.”
That paid off on Saturday as, after the early goal allowed, Portillo was perfect, finishing the game with 29 saves.
The Badgers entered the game one of the nation’s hottest teams. A weekend ago, Wisconsin outscored Minnesota, 12-2, over two games. They possessed the nation’s top offense and easily the top offensive player over the last month, Cole Caufield.
But Michigan found success in shutting down Caufield and ended the sophomore phenom’s 12-game point scoring streak and seven-game goal scoring streaking, holding him to just two shots on goal. Caufield was also a minus-two on the afternoon.
Saves made by Erik Portillo: 29
Number of Cam York assists: 3
Snapping Cole Caufield's point streak: priceless pic.twitter.com/PDg4HEtBIf
— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) February 14, 2021
That takes a level of awareness, says Pearson.
“You have to make sure whoever is on the ice knows he is on the ice,” Pearson said. “But more importantly, we talked about whatever lines is out against him, we have to possess the puck and make him play without it. He’s too talented when he has the puck.”
Trailing 1-0, Michigan wasted little time in the second period erasing the deficit. Two of the Wolverines go-to players – Brendan Brisson and Matty Beniers – scored over a 1:32 stretch early in the second. When Eric Ciccolini and Luke Morgan added tallies before the second was over, Michigan had gained control.
The Wolverines now own a five-game winning streak that they will put on the line on Sunday in the series rematch.
Western Michigan 4, No. 4 Minnesota Duluth 1
Western Michigan completed an impressive weekend sweep over No. 4 Minnesota Duluth, coming within two minutes of back-to-back shutouts for goaltender Alex Aslanidis, settling for a 4-1 victory.
Ronnie Attard scored during a delayed penalty and then again, a minute later on the power play, early in the second period to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
— WMU Hockey (@WMUHockey) February 13, 2021
Ty Glover, in the second, and Cole Gallant at 5:28 of the third extended the lead.
Aslanidis was solid for the second straight night in goal and came within a Cole Koepke goal with 2:00 left in regulation of posting two straight shutouts.
Lake Superior 5, No. 12 Bowling Green 2
Five different players recorded goals and Marek Mittens made 28 saves on 30 shots as Lake Superior upset No. 12 Bowling Green, 5-2, to sweep the weekend series.
Lake Superior earned a 2-1 overtime win on Friday.
The Lakers jumped to a 4-0 lead on goals by Hampus Ericksson, in the first, and a trio of tallies by Pete Veillette, Louis Boudon and Ashton Calder in the second.
Lake Superior, which never was on the power play in the entire game, killed both penalties they were assessed.
The visiting Lakers improve to 7-4-3 overall and are now 3-0-0 on the road.