BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Writer
Published October 22, 2009
Scooter Vaughan looked like he would start the season as a member of the Michigan hockey team's deepest defense corps in recent years.
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But when the junior took the ice two weeks ago against Alaska-Anchorage, he wasn’t on the blue line — he was on offense.
And after a groin injury sidelined junior forward Ben Winnett before last night’s 3-2 win against Niagara, Michigan coach Red Berenson saw Vaughan as a viable replacement to join junior Louie Caporusso and sophomore David Wohlberg on the Wolverines’ top line.
“We need some energy up there on that first line,” Berenson said. “And Scooter gives us hustle and muscle and he fits in fine."
The Wolverines clung to a one-goal lead with less than one minute remaining in the game, and Berenson left the former defenseman on the ice as a testament to Vaughan's ability as a defensive-minded player.
“It’s a little bit different (playing forward) than defense,” Vaughan said. “But it’s a pretty easy transition, just being defensive-minded and thinking about scoring goals.”
On several occasions this year, Berenson has insisted that his defense will play a much bigger role on offense after tallying just 18 goals last season.
But with a deep defensive group with seven capable players, Berenson thought that Vaughan’s skills as a forward would better fit the team's needs.
Although Vaughan’s abilities may not best be suited for scoring on a consistent basis — he hasn't scored a goal in three seasons at Michigan — Berenson has consistently described him as a complement to scoring threats like Caporusso and Wohlberg. And with Vaughan’s experience on defense, he will often be utilized on the penalty kill as a defensive forward.
“We still haven’t found our best lineup obviously at this point in the year,” Berenson said. “But Scooter is showing what he can do up front."
SPECIAL PLAY: After Michigan finished a modest fifth in the conference on the power play and third in penalty kill percentage last year, Berenson has said several times this year that the Wolverines still have a lot to improve on when it comes to special teams.
Notre Dame, with the top penalty kill in the conference last year, garnered the CCHA’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid by winning the CCHA Tournament. The top power play unit last year, Miami (Ohio), made it all the way to the national championship game.
But with his team’s effort on special teams through three games, Berenson has to be already pleased.
The Wolverines’ penalty kill is still perfect, and before Niagara killed six straight penalties last night, Michigan’s power play percentage was a staggering .500.
“(The penalty kill) has definitely been an important part of our games,” Berenson said. “When you don’t give up a power play goal and we’ve had to kill a lot of penalties. … It’s a big part of our record and it’s been a big part of these close games.”
Added junior forward Carl Hagelin: “We take a lot of pride in trying to be 100 percent (on the penalty kill) which is hard, but if we can do that, we’re happy.”
With the team’s first two goals against the Purple Eagles coming on the power play, the Wolverines’ offseason work on special teams is beginning to show.
NOTES: Junior forward Ben Winnett, who was replaced by Scooter Vaughan on the first line, was scratched from the game due to a nagging groin injury he sustained in practice last Thursday, which has kept him from finishing any practice since. Berenson did not indicate yesterday if Winnett will dress for Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines head to Boston tomorrow night to take on defending national champion Boston University (0-2) at Agganis Arena. Michigan lost to the Terriers 7-2 last season. The seven Boston goals were the most Michigan allowed all year.