Ann Arbor — Michigan first-year head coach Mel Pearson showed his faith in sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne Friday night and was rewarded with a 6-5 victory in the opener of a Big Ten Hockey League tournament best-of-three quarterfinal series at Yost Arena.
While the majority of coaches would have pulled his starting goaltender after giving up three goals on eight shots before the first period was halfway through, Pearson stayed with Lavigne who has been a big reason the Wolverines were 10-3-1 in their last 14 games and entered the night ranked No. 12 nationally.
Well, Lavigne turned away Seamus Malone’s wrist shot from the right circle with Wisconsin holding a 3-1 lead and the Wolverines went on to score three power-play goals within a five-minute stretch late in the period to take a 4-3 lead.
“I thought we were fortunate to win this one tonight, our power play which has been average as of late really bailed us out in this game and took advantage of the calls we got,” Pearson said. “Even though Hayden, you think when a guy gave up five goals maybe he had a tough night, but other than the one I thought he played excellent tonight.
“I told Jack (backup goaltender LaFontaine) to get ready after the third one. If it got to four then we have to look at the whole series, but fortunately, it didn’t and we got back in the game. I thought that second goal was critical.”
Lavigne, who faced a season-high 53 shots, made a huge save on Wyatt Kalynuk’s shot from between the circles with 2:12 remaining to keep the Wolverines ahead, then continued to play well after Wisconsin pulled its goalie for the extra attacker just seconds later.
Freshman phenom Quinn Hughes had a hand in a pair of the power-play goals. He finished with a goal and three assists. Cooper Marody and Joseph Cecconi each had three assists.
Oh, and Hughes also had a hand in the winning goal as well, circling behind Wisconsin’s goal and flipping it in front to Tony Calderone who completed his Texas hat trick (four goals) with 8:53 remaining for his Big Ten-leading 23rd goal of the season.
“What can you say, he’s worth the price of admission,” said Pearson of Hughes. “He has tremendous skill and is a great competitor and awesome teammate.”
And, of Calderone?
“He’s a shooter, he’s a scorer and I’m so happy for him,” said Pearson of Calderone. “You want your seniors to have their best year and he’s far exceeded my expectations and he’s not done and we’re not done.”
Calderone gave all the credit to his teammates for his big night. It was Michigan’s first four-goal night since Kyle Connor scored four in the Big Ten semifinal two years ago. The Wolverines went on to win the Big Ten tournament title the following night.
“If you watched the replays I didn’t do a lot,” said Calderone, a native of Trenton. “Those guys were great tonight and made my job easy.”
Hughes, a defenseman who has NHL scouts and general managers drooling over, blasted a slap shot from the right point which Calderone re-directed for his second goal of the game to pull the Wolverines within 3-2 with 6:46 left in the first.
Then, Lavigne made a big save on a shot from Ryan Wagner, then another on a shot from Peter Tischke before the Badgers were whistled for another penalty with Wisconsin owning a 16-6 advantage on shots.
Michigan again made the Badgers pay when Jake Slaker took Sam Piazza’s pass and one-timed a shot from the right circle to pull the Wolverines even with 3:38 left.
Then, Wisconsin was handed a penalty for too many men on the ice and again the Wolverines took advantage with Hughes scoring on a wrist shot from between the circles with 1:51 left.
Wisconsin, which entered the series on a four-game losing streak and hadn’t won a game since a 4-2 victory over the Wolverines at Yost on Feb. 3, carried the play in Michigan’s zone during the first half of the opening period, taking a 3-1 lead while outshooting the Wolverines by an 11-1 margin.
“We were just out there spectating, they should have charged us admission tonight to come into the building the way the first eight, 10 minutes were, and then we started to play,” Pearson said. “We just came out loose and we need everybody. Our mindset wasn’t where it needed to be and that’s on me.”
It could have been worse.
First, Wisconsin looked to have taken a 1-0 lead just 1 minute, 39 seconds into the game when Lavigne stopped Tim Davison’s shot from the left point, but Matthew Freytag knocked in the rebound.
However, officials called off the goal due to goaltender interference.
Then, Michigan scored a minute later when Marody skated own the left side and found Calderone who scored on a wrist shot from the right circle.
But, then it was all Wisconsin — with goals from Tyler Inamoto, Matthew Freytag and Ryan Wagner within a span of just over four minutes — until Michigan’s power-play chances.
And, those power-play opportunities kept going with the Wolverines getting yet another one less than two minutes into the second period.
Hughes again was the catalyst, finding Calderone between the circles and his one-timer beat Kyle Hayton for a hat trick to open up a 5-3 cushion.
But, unfortunately for the Wolverines, Wisconsin received a five-minute power play when Brendan Warren was called for giving a blow to the head, and handed a game misconduct, on a play that wasn’t called on the ice, but only after the play was reviewed.
And, the Badgers responded with a power-play goal when Linus Weissbach scored off a one-timer from atop the right circle with 10 minutes left in the second period to pull within 5-4.
The Badgers still had 1:49 left on the power play, but couldn’t get the puck past Lavigne again.
That is, until the Badgers scored another power-play goal less than two minutes into the third period to pull even at 5 when Wagner scored his second of the night from just in front of the crease.
Michigan (19-13-3) will try to close out the series Saturday night at Yost.
More Big Ten hockey
(At) Ohio State 6, Michigan State 2: Tanner Laczynski had a goal and an assist for the Buckeyes (22-8-5), who take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Big Ten quarterfinal series. Patrick Khodorenko and Damian Chrcek scored for the Spartans (12-21-2). Game 2 is Saturday at Value City Arena. Faceoff is 7 p.m.