If any of the members of the Michigan hockey team has embodied its unexpected season, it’s Lee Moffie.
The senior defenseman, in the midst of preparing for his final regular-season series against Ferris State, has been unable to reproduce results similar to his sophomore and junior campaigns. But now with his collegiate career very much dependent on his, as well as his team’s, performance, the pressure to win has mounted.
Using a conservative approach and smart defensive plays uncharacteristic of his past performances, Moffie has become a factor in the Wolverines’ recent success.
“I think Moffie has brought a lot of elements to our team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He’s an offensive puck-moving defenseman, who has pretty much led our team in defensive scoring the past three years.”
During his days as a member of the Waterloo Black Hawks from the United States Hockey League, Moffie earned his reputation for taking the puck and distributing it to his teammates. Moffie recorded 35 assists in his time in junior hockey and 25 assists in his senior year of prep school.
“He’s been a reliable player for this university for four years,” said senior forward A.J. Treais. “Right when he came in, I think he was a little confused. He was a high-risk player, tried to do a little too much and play out of his element.
“Now he’s just kind of settled in as a reliable guy, reliable leader and a locker-room favorite.”
Yet this season, Moffie hasn’t always been the reliable point-scorer on the team and has struggled to be a leader in general. Freshman Jacob Trouba leads defensemen in points with seven goals and 14 assists, but Moffie’s leadership no longer comes from giving advice.
Instead, Moffie has conceded his offensive prowess to Trouba for a more unselfish and quiet game. Entering his final regular-season home series, Moffie has totaled two goals and eight assists.
Moffie first shined on offense in his sophomore season, when he tallied 17 points on eight goals and nine assists. He peaked in his junior campaign, racking up 32 points on seven goals and 25 assists.
Moffie knows that he can answer the call when needed. He just hasn’t been.
“I’m still pretty confident that I can help out this team offensively,” Moffie said. “But scoring goals isn’t our problem, it’s giving up too many.”
And he’s right. Michigan has sat in 57th place in the nation since Feb. 1 with 3.59 goals allowed per game. Moffie and the Wolverines (9-15-2 CCHA, 12-18-2 overall) allowed three goals in both of their victories over Ohio State last weekend.
But to be fair to the former risk taker, his fellow defensive corps members have been injured or shifted around for much of the season. The absence of juniors Jon Merrill and Mac Bennett prevented Moffie from building chemistry.
The result put an increased amount of pressure on the Wallingford, Conn. native this season, in addition to his role as an alternate captain.
“I just think it’s a combination of things,” Berenson said. “He’s in sync with the team, and when the team isn’t playing well defensively he’s part of it. I think he takes a lot of responsibility for that. So he puts a lot of pressure on himself.
“We don’t need him to score, we need him to play rock-solid defensively. But he can score and he can create offense.”
But his best hockey is coming at one of the most important times for the Wolverines, even if it comes without registering a point. After recording a plus-six rating on Saturday — he was on the ice for all six Michigan goals against the Buckeyes — Moffie was making all the necessary plays and no more. Instead of moving the puck into the opposing zone himself, there was Moffie making the pass to a forward on the wing.
Now, his history will have to be set aside in order to salvage his future.
“He’s an important part — you saw him this weekend,” Berenson said. “I think his game stepped up, and he’s playing his best hockey of the season right now.”
It’s a good thing for Moffie his mentality shift is coming now when senior night approaches, with his family coming into Ann Arbor to watch him in his final regular-season series.
“It’ll be fun — nice having family here,” Moffie said. “It’s our last games at Yost, if we can end up with two wins, it’ll be really nice.”