Plymouth — The University of Michigan rarely leaves the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena when it doesn’t have to, but Saturday night was different.
Saturday night almost didn’t happen.
When Michigan head coach Mel Pearson accepted the job to replace legendary coach Red Berenson in April, he noticed that USA Hockey’s U18 development team wasn’t on the schedule and wondered why.
“When I noticed it and learned there was some miscommunication, I went to our administration and said ‘we’ll play there’. USA Hockey has been a great partner. I like the games, and competition. Why not come over here,” he asked.
“They’ve been at Yost so many times, it was the least we could to come and play at their place.”
Once the puck was dropped, Michigan made itself right at home behind senior captain Tony Calderone’s hat trick for a convincing 7-3 win.
Play was fast, physical, and hard going early in the first period, but the Wolverines’ found the back of the net after weathering the storm.
The puck was stopped in the USA zone after freshman Mike Pastujov ran into two defenders. He found Calderone slip behind, and offered a crossing pass to his captain on the near side. Calderone then flipped in the puck for a 1-0 lead with 14:51 to play in the opening period.
Five minutes later, Calderone quickly built upon the lead with a little help from good puck luck as he offered a pass that went off a USA defender’s stick and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
“It’s a good feeling when things like that happen. I know a lot of guys found me on back door cuts. When that happens, you need to fire as quickly as possible,” he said.
Sophomore Adam Winborg capped the first period scoring at 3-0 when he received a quick pass off the faceoff from fellow sophomore Jake Slaker with seven minutes to play in the period.
No matter how bad it looked, USA coach Seth Appert wasn’t dejected despite only coming away with a few shots on net.
“I liked our first period, yet we were down three nothing. We had tons of chances and (Hayden) Lavigne made some good saves. Plus, they had two goals that bounced in off of us,” he said.
Michigan added a quick power play goal to start the second period off the stick of senior Dexter Dancs (assisted by Calderone), 4-0, before the tide turned in USA’s favor.
Harvard commit Oliver Wahlstrom earned his 16th goal of the year on a power play goal of his own 13:08 into the second period that was met with a cascade of teddy bears from the crowd that are set to be donated to local families of the United Way this holiday season.
The score tightened further in the second period, 4-3, when Boston College commit Patrick Giles scored two goals to pull USA within one.
“Giles is starting to develop that power forward mentality that all great forwards have. That ‘I’m going to be a beast against whomever I play, no matter where we play’ mentality,” Appert said.
“He was throwing guys off the puck tonight, even the older guys. He’s in the early stages, because he’s young, of developing that mentality. When he plays with it he’s hard to stop.”
The Wolverines, though, were still red hot when the third period started earning two goals just twelve seconds apart.
Calderone capped off his hat-trick when junior Cooper Morody fired a shot wide of the net. The puck caromed off the end boards, and found the Trenton native’s stick for a point blank, 5-3 goal.
The achievement wasn’t lost on Pearson calling his captain a difference maker.
“He’s been that way from the start all year. He works hard. He has a great release, and has a nose for the net. He could have had five or six of them tonight. He’s a difference maker when he’s on the ice, and he’s been leading our team well,” he said.
Bloomfiled Hills native sophomore Will Lockwood quickly added to the lead, 6-3. And with 8:51 to play in the third period, Nick Pastujov put in a goal that was assisted by his brother Mike for a 7-3 lead.
“They played well, and had good goaltending, which was tough on us tonight. But, things seemed to go in easy for us,” Pearson summarized the game.
“If you don’t seem to take these exhibition games seriously, and you don’t prepare hard, you won’t play the right way and get beat. There’s too much talent over there. Every one of their players is going to play Division One hockey.”
Michigan Heeded The Call
USA Hockey’s development program, and Michigan aren’t strangers to each other. In fact, they used to be neighbors.
Before the USA Hockey development program took over Compuware arena in 2015, The national development program has called the Ann Arbor Ice Cube home for its entire 18-year history. The program also has sent a fair amount of players to Ann Arbor to continue their playing careers as well.
“The college games are so hard for us, and so competitive. It’s special when it’s Michigan because they are close to us geographically and half our team is in that program,” Appert said.
“It was especially neat to see the World Championship presentation before the game where we’re all represented. That was a great moment, and is what this place is all about.”
In the past, both teams would meet for exhibition games at Yost Ice Arena. But USA Hockey felt it was about time their home host a game too.
“I can’t thank Mel Person and Michigan hockey team enough for coming over here. Our program has played a Yost (Ice Arena) for a lot of years; and that’s a special place. But for USA Hockey and what we’re trying to build here, this meant a lot,” Appert explained.
“The atmosphere was awesome. At the end of the day, you don’t want to play for the fans. You want to play for your brothers, teammates and your jersey. It’s fun when the place is packed like it was tonight.”
Appert and the USA Hockey program also knew that playing a college blue blood program would help their players adjust for bigger moments like when they host the Five Nations tournament in February.
“Games like these prepare our guys for bigger moments,” he said. “We’re going to have our ‘Five Nations’ tournament here, and that’s going to have a big crowd. The World Championships in Russia will be a big crowd. The crowd element adds a little bit of pressure, excitement and energy that you can’t replicate. To have that, is great for our guys.”