Michigan hockey returns with impressive victory over Wisconsin

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It’s been three weeks since the eighth-ranked Michigan Wolverines have played a hockey game, and with the red-hot No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers coming to town for a weekend series, it’d make sense to simplify things from the top down for Game 1 on Saturday.

That’s exactly what head coach Mel Pearson planned to do, until he got a literal sign from the “hockey gods.”

Michigan's Nick Granowicz, center, celebrates with teammates after scoring a third period goal for the Wolverines in their 5-1 win over Wisconsin.

“I was riding in two days ago,” Pearson said. “We have this huge electronic billboard, and it was advertising the Wisconsin game. And who was the player they have on the billboard? Erik Portillo. It was just like the hockey gods reached down, and it was a sign. There he was. From that point on, I told the other coaches, ‘It’s Erik.’ ”

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Portillo started over junior Michigan goaltender and team captain Strauss Mann, who this season is 8-6-0 with a .927 saves percentage and 2.00 goals against average. Wisconsin averaged 3.95 goals per game entering Saturday, tied for first in the NCAA.

Pearson can thank those hockey gods for making him look like the smartest man in Yost Ice Arena on Saturday afternoon. 

BOX SCORE: Michigan 5, Wisconsin 1

Portillo dazzled in his third career start, advancing to 3-0 on the season by stopping 29 of 30 shots faced from the nation’s top scoring offense as the Wolverines went on to bully the Badgers at home, 5-1.

Four second-period goals helped Michigan escape a 1-0 first-period deficit and Portillo shut the door the rest of the way. 

“We knew they were going to come out hard,” Portillo said. “We watched video of them and we’ve seen the stats. They’re a really good first-period team. I trust my teammates and I know they can score, so I wasn’t worried too much about (the early Wisconsin goal).”

Both teams entered Saturday on a four-game winning streak.

Eric Ciccolini, Matty Beniers, Brendan Brisson, Luke Morgan and Nick Granowicz scored, while Johnny Beecher and defenseman Cam York tied for a team-high two assists each for Michigan (11-6, 9-6-0-1-0 Big 10).

“We knew it was going to be hard to come back after the break that we had,” Morgan said. “We just stuck to it, and eventually the wheels started turning, and we were able to generate some chances. We just built off that every other shift the rest of the game.”

Once those wheels started turning, so did Michigan’s forecheck. Thomas Bordeleau forced a turnover by first-round Oilers pick Dylan Holloway, fed the puck to Brisson, and got Michigan on the board.

“I think the main thing was our forecheck,” Morgan said. “Once we established that, and got a lot of pressure on their ‘D’, they started turning the puck over, and we started generating chances.”

Michigan's Kent Johnson, right, leaps into the arms of teammate Matty Beniers after Beniers scored a second period goal, one of four in the period for the Wolverines.

Michigan registered its first shot on goal with 11:06 to go in the first period, when Michael Pastujov ripped a low shot on the rush for an easy save by Robbie Beydoun. Wisconsin's Owen Lindmark quickly smacked the rebound up the boards to teammate Mathieu De St. Phalle, springing him free for a breakaway that was converted with a shot off the bar and in to make it 1-0 at 8:59.

The Wolverines' offensive attack picked up to close the first, and while it didn't lead to any goals, Michigan had clearly swung the momentum. Just 1:48 into the second, Bordeleau’s takeaway helped Brisson tie things up.

Just 1:32 later, Matty Beniers gave Michigan a 2-1 lead. Kent Johnson swatted a puck at chest-height backwards to Beniers, who carried the puck down the boards and beat Beydoun low, glove-side on the rush for his fifth of the year.

Then Johnny Beecher carried the puck to the center of the ice and let go of a shot that was saved, but produced a juicy rebound for Eric Ciccolini to put Michigan up 3-1 at 7:04 in the second.

Luke Morgan blew the game wide open with a far-side shot from the right faceoff dot that skipped off a defenseman's stick to beat Beydoun at 16:08 of the second period, ending Beydoun’s evening.

Beydoun allowed four goals on 15 shots. Freshman Cameron Rowe stopped 15 out of 16 in relief.

Michigan extended its lead to 5-1 with 4:56 left on a perfectly executed play off the faceoff. Keaton Pehrson let go a point shot that was deflected in by Granowicz to ice the game.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.