WORCESTER, Mass. — All week long, the Michigan top line heard about Northeastern’s devastating first line of Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura and Nolan Stevens.
Gaudette was leading the country in scoring with 60 points. Sikura had totaled 54, good for third in the nation. Both were Hobey Baker Award finalists. The other member of the trio, Nolan Stevens, had scored 24 goals.
Intimidating. Overwhelming. Unstoppable.
The Michigan top line’s response? Cooper Marody, Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs went to Wolverines coach Mel Pearson and collectively said, “We want them!”
“They were bugging me all week,” Pearson said. “But that’s good. You want your players to step up and want that challenge.”
Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes a coach needs to protect his exuberant charges from challenges they’re not ready to tackle. Youthful enthusiasm has been known to backfire before.
Not this time.
The trio scored all three Wolverines goals on Saturday and shut out Northeastern’s high-powered unit while even strength, allowing them only a power-play goal. The head-to-head matchup of top lines left the Michigan unit with a plus-3 and its counterparts a minus-3.
With the 3-2 win powered by their top unit, the Wolverines advanced to play Boston University in the Northeast Regional final on Sunday with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four.
“All week we heard about how that was the best line in college hockey,” Dancs said. “We play for those challenges. They’re awesome players, and it was a challenge.
“They may be the best line in college hockey, but we wanted that challenge. We wanted to show everyone that the Big Ten is a really good league, and we play against good players all year.”
After a scoreless first period, Marody staked Michigan to a 1-0 league, skating out from behind the net and into the slot, where his wrist shot beat Cayden Primeau. The lead lasted only three minutes, however, as Sikura scored on the power play to send the game into the third period deadlocked 1-1.
Dancs scored on a backhander from a sharp angle, a goal Primeau certainly would have wanted back, but Eric Williams tied it with an innocuous-looking shot from the top of the right circle.
At 14:30, Marody delivered the game-winner from the slot off a backhanded pass from Calderone.
The Michigan trio hadn’t just contained their highly regarded counterparts. They’d asked for the head-to-head matchup and outplayed them.
Pearson explained why he’d placed his team’s tournament future in those players’ hands.
“That line possesses the puck a lot for us,” he said. “They did a really good job of that tonight. When we have control of the puck, obviously that line of theirs has to play without it.
“Cooper is so good at handling the puck. They possess the puck as a line. They play strong, they play hard, they play big, and they play gritty and they have some skill. So that was a matchup we liked.
“They did an outstanding job and that was the story of the game tonight.”