Ann Arbor — Michigan’s hockey team will play at Penn State Thursday night, opening up a series that concludes with a Super Saturday game between the teams at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., BTN).
The series is an important one for the No. 6 Wolverines, who enter with a 9-1-3 record the last 13 games and owners of the top line in college hockey the last couple of months.
No. 15 Penn State has been a big reason Michigan failed to make the NCAA Tournament the last two years, winning six of the nine games between the teams, including 2-1 in double-overtime in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinal two years ago, then three of four last season to prevent the Wolverines from earning a No. 2 seed and quarterfinal bye in the conference tournament.
The teams are tied for second in the Big Ten, sitting six points behind Minnesota.
Freshman phenom Kyle Connor (18 goals, 36 points), junior captain J.T. Compher (seven goals, 32 points) and junior Tyler Motte (18 goals, 28 points) have combined for 30 goals in the last 10 games with Connor — a first-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets — accounting for 13 and Motte, 11.
“I think we all bring something different to the line, which I think is special with Kyle Connor’s ability to make plays,” Motte said. “He’s a good goal scorer and finishes on all of the opportunities he gets. J.T. is a great two-way centerman. He wins faceoffs, he’s hard in the corners and he’s tough guy for other teams to play against. He’s got the offensive ability to bury chances and make plays as well. For me, I just try and get those guys the puck, create a little space, get to the net and I’ve been fortunate enough to bury my opportunities so far this year.
“I don’t think there’s anything in particular. We just all bring something different to the table. We don’t overthink it. We’re all knowledgeable players, kind of just formed really well.”
Motte had a hat trick in Michigan’s 8-6 comeback win over Ohio State Jan. 17 when the Wolverines scored five third-period goals, four coming from the top line to battle back from a 5-3 deficit.
“It’s been a lot of fun first and foremost just wearing the block M,” said Connor, 19, from Shelby Township, who already has more goals than Dylan Larkin had his freshman year last season (15). “We just kind of approach every game like any other and go out there and have a great working mentality and the points just come after that.
"I think all three of us kind of complement each other. J.T. has great vision on the ice and he always ends up finding us and Tyler can shoot the puck and score from anywhere. I feel I bring a lot of speed to the table, also I’m kind of a shooter and use my quick release out there. Also, with my vision I can set up J.T. and Tyler.”
And, of Michigan’s ability to put the puck in the net in a hurry?
“It gives us a lot of confidence as a team that if we’re down in the third period we don’t panic and we just stick with it, knowing we have the ability to score goals quick,” said Connor of the Wolverines who have rallied back from two-goal deficits to earn wins or ties seven times this season. They are the nation’s top scoring team, averaging 4.86 goals.
It was announced Michigan State would compete in the Super Saturday game at Madison Square Garden in 2018, playing Minnesota. The Spartans (5-17-2) will play a weekend series at Ohio State.