Michigan hockey heads to Ohio State on a roll
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Mel Pearson was talking about how he was trying to get his hands on some tickets for this summer’s Def Leppard/Journey concert at Comerica Park, noting the last time he saw a concert was last summer’s U2 show at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.
Then, when junior forward Brendan Warren walked into the hockey office, Pearson said, “I bet Brendan doesn’t even know who those guys are,” to which Warren replied: “I know Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar On Me,”
Pearson then said, “How about Journey?” to which Warren replied: “Separate Ways, Don’t Stop Believin’, Open arms.”
Yes, Warren passed the test on his knowledge of Def Leppard and Journey music, but don’t expect Pearson to be inviting him to the big show … if he does land some tickets.
Oh, and by the way Warren has also passed the test while playing on Michigan’s second line with freshman Josh Norris and sophomore Jake Slaker, contributing three goals in the weekend sweep at No. 9 Minnesota Jan. 12-13, then chipping in with a goal and an assist in last weekend’s home sweep against No. 12 Penn State.
Yes, Pearson was talking about how Michigan needed better goaltending and more scoring aside from the top line of Cooper Marody, Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs heading into the second half of the season.
Well, the No. 17 Wolverines (12-10-2, 7-7-2) have won four straight since consecutive 2-1 losses to No. 1 Notre Dame on Jan. 5-7. They will play at No. 6 Ohio State (15-5-4, 8-5-1) Friday and Saturday with second place in the Big Ten on the line.
If the season ended today, the Wolverines would be playing in the NCAA tournament’s 16-team field. They are locked in the No. 15 spot in the PairWise Rankings, just ahead of Penn State and Boston College.
“I think the biggest thing is goaltending, we’re starting to get good goaltending and now we’re starting to get more scoring depth,” pointed out Pearson. “Norris has really played well since he’s come back (from playing with U.S. team in World Junior Championship). Since we’ve moved Josh on the wing with Jake Slaker, for whatever reason they’ve just clicked, there’s some chemistry there. Warren’s on that line on the other wing so they’ve found some chemistry and good for them, and good for our team.
“You need more than just a few guys. The guys have bought in and played like we envisioned it, not only defensively, but offensively, our specials teams are better too.”
Michigan sophomore Hayden Lavigne owns a .941 save percentage and a 1.66 goals-against-average during the last six games. He turned aside all 34 shots he faced in the Wolverines’ 4-0 win over Penn State last Friday, then had 43 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 win, playing shutout hockey for 58 minutes, 3 seconds until the Nittany Lions scored two goals with the extra attacker.
“He (Lavigne) should have had two shutouts,” Pearson said. “I feel bad for him because he played so well and we let up. Sure, they pulled their goalie and some things went in, but we could have done a better job so I feel bad for him.”
Pearson feels good for Norris, an 18-year-old first-round pick of the Sharks. Norris has four goals and six points in the last five games since returning from the World Junior Championship. He had four goals and nine points in the 15 games prior to the WJC.
“This is the type of player we felt he’d be, but it takes time and everybody develops at a different rate,” Pearson said. “Now, you can see the confidence in him. I think it’s a byproduct from the World Junior tournament. He’s playing with some more speed and he’s skating better, getting more involved without the puck defensively and physically.”
Warren enjoys playing on the new line with Norris and Slaker. He now has seven goals, 12 points and a plus-five rating after a 10-point (three goals, seven assists, 35 games) junior year.
“Things are going good,” Warren said. “My linemates have been helping me a lot. For me, it’s just being consistent, using my speed and trying to force turnovers and then get some chances in front of the net and being strong defensively.
“They (Norris, Slaker) are both really fast and skilled players. They’re also smart and good at doing their thing and getting me the puck. I think we’re also playing well defensively, doing all we can for our team right now because I think we have a chance to do something special.”
Pearson knows the Wolverines will have to play their best to come out with a win or a sweep at Ohio State.
Michigan at Ohio State
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
TV: Both games on BTN Plus