What do you do when a player scores four goals in a game?
That was the question at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., last night when defenseman Luke Hughes scored his fourth goal of the game, giving No. 7 Michigan men's hockey a 5-4 lead over No. 6 Penn State with 10:45 to go in regulation.
HUGHES on a HEATER! Fourth goal tonight.#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/q6QA4qPGe1— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 29, 2023
The Wolverines rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second period as well as a 4-2 hole early in the third with the win marking their first sweep in Big Ten play this season.
The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than a minute into the game when Tyler Gratton buried a loose puck off the rush 48 seconds in, and Xander Lamppa redirected a feed from Gratton past Erik Portillo (32 saves) just six seconds later.
In the second, just 1:55 after a disallowed Michigan goal would have cut it to 2-1, Danny Dzhaniyev made it 3-0 on a 2-on-1.
From there Hughes took over, getting Michigan on the board with 5:28 to go in the second. The fourth overall pick to the New Jersey Devils in the 2021 NHL Draft took full advantage of a Penn State defender losing his stick, taking a tour of the left side of the offensive zone and dancing at the point before sending a shot bar-down to cut it to 3-1.
FILTH from Luke Hughes#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/voZsbM4CEi— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 29, 2023
He added another on the power play with 1:17 left in the period to pull UM within one, playing pitch-and-catch with T.J. Hughes (no relation) before launching a one-timer from the top of the right circle.
Luke Hughes hat trick watch is on!— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) January 29, 2023
U-M 2, PSU 3 pic.twitter.com/Q5dz3Jk9Io
Ture Linden restored PSU's two-goal cushion with 16:55 left in regulation, but Hughes answered again just 2:01 later to complete the hat trick.
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Rutger McGroarty shoveled the puck back to Hughes at the point, and he sent a wrist shot that squeaked through Liam Souliere (22 saves) and barely trickled over the goal line. Hats launched into the air and rained to the ice as the Wolverines pulled back, 4-3.
Dylan Duke sent the Yost crowd into a frenzy once again, tying it 4-4 with 12:02 to go, but Hughes took the lid off the building when he gave Michigan the lead just 1:17 later.
Fellow blue-chip prospect Adam Fantilli (a projected top-three pick in the 2023 draft) danced through the Nittany Lions defense before finding Hughes at the left point, who skated in, loaded and uncorked a bomb over Souliere's glove. Now that a number of fans had lost their hats, all that hit the ice were a couple of rogue foam fingers.
This what a go-ahead goal sounds like at Yost Ice Arena. Absolutely deafening. @ChildrenOfYost bringing the energy tonight for @umichhockey pic.twitter.com/Y7cQ884eiG— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) January 29, 2023
Hughes' performance helped the Wolverines to a comeback from a 3-0 deficit for the first time since Nov. 10, 2017, when they defeated Minnesota, 5-4 in overtime. It's also the first time a UM skater scored four goals in a game since Tony Calderone against Wisconsin on March 2, 2018.
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For Hughes, it's another dazzling night on an already impressive resume in the collegiate ranks.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound blue-liner was a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award last season, putting up 17 goals and 22 assists for 39 points, leading all freshmen in points as well as all NCAA defensemen. The national Rookie of the Year, he set a program record for goals and points by a freshman defenseman, smashing the previous highs of 13 and 32.
When UM bowed out to Denver in the Frozen Four last season, all eyes, particularly those of Devils fans, shifted to Hughes, who could have signed a professional contract to join his brother Jack, already a star in New Jersey.
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But Luke opted for another season at Michigan, telling reporters at USA Hockey's World Junior development camp last summer that two years was part of his plan all along, citing the similar paths of current All-Star defensemen like his brother, Quinn (Michigan/Vancouver), Zach Werenski (Michigan/Columbus) as well as Cale Makar (UMass/Colorado).
He's taken advantage of his second year so far, building on his rookie campaign and rounding out his game.
While the Wolverine assistant captain had just four goals on the season entering night, he had already tied his 22 assists from last season before doubling the goal total in one game. Despite the slow start by his standards in terms of finding the back of the net, Hughes has taken off of late with six goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games since Dec. 1, including three straight with at least two points after a three-assist outing against Minnesota and a goal and two helpers in Game 1 against Penn State.
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With both the college and NHL seasons hitting their stretch runs, and New Jersey in a battle for first place in their division, Hughes remains in the back of the minds of Devils fans.
Dubbed a "unicorn" by Michigan coach Brandon Naurato, if Hughes puts pen to paper on an entry-level contract once the Wolverines' season ends like many expect he will, he would instantly bring an added element to New Jersey's backend as one of the smoothest-skating and better all-around defense prospects in hockey.
For now, he's still got work to do in Ann Arbor.