Islanders’ Ryan Pulock talks the ‘Michigan’ from a defenseman’s point of view, how to defend it

Ryan Pulock Islanders
New York Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock (6) controls the puck as Philadelphia Flyers center Zack MacEwen (17) and Islanders right wing Simon Holmstrom (10) collide during the third period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022, in Elmont, N.Y. The Islanders won 5-2. (AP Photo/John Munson)

Chicago Blackhawks forward Andreas Athanasiou found himself with time behind the Islanders’ net during the first period of Sunday night’s game at UBS Arena. Rather than wait for a teammate to get open, he scooped the puck onto the blade of his stick and balanced it there — trying to bring it up to shoulder-level to wrap around and stuff into the top-left corner of Semyon Varlamov’s goal. 

The move is called the Michigan; one of hockey’s most famous and cool moves that has been popularized especially as of late by young Anaheim Ducks star Trevor Zegras. 

As Athanasiou attempted to wrap the puck around toward the face of goal over Varlamov’s shoulder, defenseman Adam Pelech — who had moved to the right post — swung his stick in one last-ditch effort to make a play. His defensive partner, Ryan Pulock, got to the left post just in time to disrupt the move.

The puck flew off of Athanasiou’s blade and the Islanders’ defense pairing was safe from being the dubious part of a highlight reel.

“We were both like ‘that’s not going to happen against us,'” Pulock told amNewYork on Tuesday ahead of the Islanders’ game against the St. Louis Blues. “You never know one day, or whatever, but what you try to do is eliminate it when you can.”

The Michigan had been a myth for the better part of the last two-and-a-half decades; a jaw-dropping move that has slowly been developed since Mike Legg first pulled it off at — you guessed it — the University of Michigan in 1996. But it hasn’t come back into the national spotlight since Zegras put the move in his repertoire.

Expect to move to become more common the younger the league gets.

“There’s a lot of skill throughout the league so every night you’re going against players that are capable of making plays or make you look silly,” Pulock said. “You just have to play hard and not get caught puck-watching.”

But how do you defend it?

It seems that a Michigan attempt comes under the perfect conditions: Ample time behind the net, the defense either out of position or backed off expecting a pass, and the goalie unsure of which direction the attacker will emerge from. For Pulock, the move has never successfully been carried out against him at any level of hockey.

“Guys have tried to do it before. Sometimes when they have time behind the net they think that they can,” he said. “As a D-man, you just want to go through that guy. Try to get his stick with your stick and try to go through his body.”

Talk to any defender in the NHL about the Michigan and there will probably be some underlying level of disdain for it. An attempt at such a high-skill move is likely the equivalent of being dunked on in basketball or a linebacker getting deked out of their cleats by a running back.

“It’s a hard one because you don’t want to take the skill out of the game or excitement,” Pulock said. “Fans probably enjoy seeing that stuff but as a defender, you don’t want it happening to you. When someone does try that, you put a little more emphasis on going through them.

“I don’t know if it’s disrespect, but it’s one of those things where it’s not happening on my watch. I try not to ever let that happen.”

For more on Ryan Pulock and the Islanders, visit AMNY.com