BY NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Editor
Published March 24, 2009
On the ice, he’s ferocious. With a 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame, he’s a dominant physical presence on the blueline, a player who loves to deliver crowd-pleasing hits on opponents. His intensity often sends him to the penalty box at least once a game.
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In the quiet rooms of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, he’s the first to talk to patients, the one who gently asks them what they’re interested in and puts a smile on their faces. He grabs clipboards to organize volunteers and steers teammates, who are eager to meet new children, around the hospital to visiting rooms.
Meet the two sides of sophomore defenseman Tristin Llewellyn.
The Tough Guy
Beyond delivering hits that echo off the walls of Yost Ice Arena, Llewellyn is also known for his penalty minutes.
Against Nebraska-Omaha on Feb. 13-14, Llewellyn was a constant fixture in the penalty box. He accumulated 18 penalty minutes on the weekend, including a 10-minute misconduct.
The Wolverines are the nation’s third-most penalized team, and Llewellyn leads them with 90 minutes in the box — the next-highest amount on the team is 20 minutes fewer.
Some of Llewellyn's minutes came from lazy penalties in the beginning of the season, Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. But now, Llewellyn limits inopportune penalties and those caused simply by poor footwork.
“He’s not taking penalties where he’s put himself in a vulnerable position and his only reaction would be to take a penalty,” Powers said. “He’s playing better positionally, which is allowing him to find those strong, solid hits when you don’t have to take penalties.”
Llewellyn struggled with his confidence and his ability to keep up with the faster pace of collegiate competition during his freshman year. After an offseason spent focusing on agility and skating techniques, Llewellyn has shown slow and steady on-ice maturation — as well as increasing self-confidence — throughout this season.
“He was recruited as a guy that was very trustworthy, a defensive defenseman who brought that physical element to the table,” Powers said. “Now that he’s adapted better to the pace, and he’s a lot more confident in the speed of the game, now you’re starting to see the physical Tristin come out a little more.
“A year ago, where he had to go looking for hits — this year, they’re coming to him a little bit better. He’s reading plays better.”
Llewellyn’s improved skating and positioning have played important roles in his strong sophomore season. He’s improved his plus-minus rating by two points (currently plus-11), tallied 24 blocked shots on the year and has allowed just three even-strength goals since January.
Llewellyn isn’t the kind of guy who hesitates to stick up for a teammate or avoid a fight, either, a habit that has led to some time in the penalty box. But that tough attitude helps make him a more menacing physical presence on the blueline.
“Hockey is business,” Llewellyn’s father, David, said. “He doesn’t like people messing with his family, which would be his team. That’s probably why he tries to stick up for his teammates.
“He plays a very aggressive style of hockey. Part of that probably comes from when he was younger playing Juniors, he had to do that to stay alive.”
Underneath the jersey and hockey pads, though, Llewellyn is seemingly a different person. When he’s not with his “family,” he’s often at the hospital visiting sick children, trying to put them at ease with their surroundings.
The Nice Guy
Llewellyn quickly realized Alyssa was shy. After a few minutes in her hospital room last Thursday night, he noticed that the thin, blonde nine-year-old had clammed up since he entered the room, seemingly intimidated by a new visitor’s presence.
He quickly crossed the room to stand next to Alyssa’s bed.
“What’s the name of your dog?” he asked softly, pointing at the giant stuffed animal on her lap.
His question immediately engaged Alyssa, and after a few minutes of conversation between the two, she was grinning ear-to-ear.
“There are athletes that go in there and instantly know what to say and make not only the kids but the families more comfortable that they’re here,” said Ed Boullion, volunteer supervisor for the “From the Heart” program.
“Tristin’s one of them. We have those naturals that come up here and are doing it because they want to do it. They get as much out of it as the families.