Red Berenson’s decisions to change up the Michigan hockey team’s lines are nothing new. And changing them up with the team going through a recent slump is even less surprising.
Which was why it came to nobody’s shock that he tinkered with his top line in Saturday’s shootout win against Ferris State, playing Kevin Lynch, Lindsay Sparks and A.J. Treais — three of his most capable senior forwards — together.
“That line, everybody brings something to the table,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “(Lynch) is a physical guy who can make plays, (Sparks) is the guy who can see the ice, and he’s a high-skill guy. A.J. does a little bit of everything.”
The moved paid dividends for the Wolverines, as the trio led the team with a combined four points. Treais lit the lamp early to set the pace in the first period, and the Wolverines followed suit with two more goals in the next two minutes.
Treais has never been a concern for Michigan after setting himself apart early on in the season as the Wolverines’ most adept forward — his 10 goals tie him for third nationally.
His presence also rubs off on his teammates, as whichever line Treais skates on usually ends up becoming Michigan’s most productive. So, with the team in need of a little more offensive flair, Berenson matched him with Lynch and Sparks, two other players who have slowly started to match Treais’ level.
Berenson named Lynch as an alternate captain on Nov. 13, and he’s since etched himself as Michigan’s most physical forward. His screen of Bulldog netminder C.J. Motte set up Treais’s goal.
To describe the line’s chemistry, Berenson used one of his favorite analogies: a horse that could pull 5,000 pounds by itself, but when paired with another, could pull 20,000. That’s what expects of Lynch’s production now that he’s skating with Treais.
“Kevin Lynch has been finding his way,” Berenson said. “Part of his resume is being a gritty forward. He can score and he can make plays. Can he and A.J. do a better job together? Absolutely. That’s the difference if you get special chemistry between two players.”
Sparks has also come a long way since being scratched for much of the second half of last season. This year, though, he’s already notched eight points, including two from Saturday, to put him in the middle of the pack of Michigan’s scorers.
Berenson has always liked putting seniors together, citing former Wolverines Luke Glendening and David Wohlberg as senior leaders whose playing styles complemented one another last year.
Both Lynch and Sparks have skated with Treais in the past, so the comfort level and chemistry was there. But it was the maturity naturally associated with their senior year that convinced Berenson that it was the right change to make.
“We needed a line to step up and at least be a No. 1 line,” Berenson said. “They’re seniors, and they know what they’re doing. They’ve got pride and they can play off each other too.”
With Michigan now under .500 with an overall record of 5-8-2, the hope is that the seniors can take the confidence garnered over the weekend’s split with Ferris State, and run with it as the Wolverines finish the first half of their season.
“(An all-senior line) puts more pressure on us to get the team going and step up our game,” Lynch said. “That’s one thing we’re going to try to do right now, put the team on our back.”