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2011-02-07

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Michael Florek: Michigan lacks the clutch performer it needs down the stretch

Max Collins/Daily
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By Michael Florek, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 6, 2011

OXFORD — Take a minute to think about everything you know about this Michigan hockey team. Think about every single player on the team, and then honestly answer two questions.

If it’s late in the game and the Wolverines are down and call a timeout to draw up a faceoff play, whose stick does the puck end up on? And who takes a penalty shot if Michigan coach Red Berenson could choose anyone on the team?

After thinking about it for longer than should be the case, you probably settled on someone like senior forward Carl Hagelin. He is the team's leading scorer, averaging more than a point per game, but his points come more from using his speed and hard work than his innate scoring ability.

Nobody knows if Michigan is going to score when Hagelin gets the puck at center ice. But Miami (Ohio) fans know what will happen when Andy Miele touches the puck. In Michigan’s two game series with the RedHawks, every time the hobbit-sized forward touched the puck, the crowd at Steve Cady Arena went from hushed to collectively inhaling so they could prepare to scream after the goal was scored.

Miele can score the clutch goals. He tied the game Friday. Admittedly, it was a shot that bounced off of a defenseman's skate that got him the puck, but he was the only player on that side of the ice, streaking towards the net — a rebound would have had the same effect as the bounce.

Miele can take over a game. He assisted on all three goals Saturday, making a slick pass to spring a breakaway on the second and giving a perfect pass on the power play for the third.

Right now, no one on Michigan has proven he can do either. It's not for lack of talent. The Wolverines top nine up front remained nearly intact from last season.

Sophomores Chris Brown, A.J. Treais and Kevin Lynch were supposed to make a jump in their second years. Junior forward David Wohlberg is healthy this year. Senior forward Louie Caporusso looked like he had gotten out of his first-half slump last year. Every one of those players are NHL draft picks except Treais.

But it hasn't translated to the ice. And with Michigan down 3-0 Saturday, no one took it upon himself to score.

“We needed one to get going and we couldn’t get it,” Berenson said.

That's exactly the problem. If this is isn't enough evidence, in order to alienate and annoy readers further, I’ll ask another question. When’s the last time, somebody, literally anybody, on the Michigan team scored on a breakaway?

It has been a problem all season. Michigan has no one who can create instant offense. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they have covered it up with their depth and timely scoring to remain near the top of the conference standings.

Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the Wolverines can ride their depth and timely scoring from the blue line to the Frozen Four. They were one whistled-off goal away from getting there a year ago with a similar situation.

But at the risk of turning this column into a game of 20 Questions, do you think Michigan can make a second consecutive run through the postseason, without being down late in the game and needing a player to step up and score?

The Miami series exposed Michigan's lack of a top-tier play maker. Michigan State coach Rick Comley called Michigan “the best team in the country top to bottom,” after its game last week. But it didn’t take much more than one guy to beat the top-to-bottom Wolverines.

“I think that Miele guy, he’s the only one who can really do things himself,” Hagelin said. “Other than that, they’re not a great offensive team.”

In this case, one is a lot more than none.

Florek thinks Hagelin is a bit more Louis Mendoza than Adam Banks, he can be reached at florekmi@umich.edu


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