- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published October 29, 2013
Fact: The Michigan hockey team has scored more than three goals once this season — in a 7-4 win over the Rochester Institute of Technology.
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Fact: The Wolverines’ offense sits exactly in the middle of the nation in total team offense with 2.83 goals per game.
Fact: Michigan’s defense hasn’t scored a goal this season.
“We know right now that goals are at a premium,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We can’t afford to give many goals up because we can’t score many goals.”
Despite the defense’s lacking role in the production, the fourth-ranked Wolverines still hold a 4-1-1 record. But with only five assists, one of which came this weekend, Michigan will be looking for more production from its blue-line pairings against Michigan Tech.
But signs like senior defenseman Mac Bennett’s pass this weekend show just how important the defense’s role on offense is to the team’s success.
Just above the left circle in Friday’s game against Boston University, Bennett stood handling the puck amid a flurry of traffic in the middle of the ice. In a matter of seconds, Bennett looked to his left, drawing the defense like a quarterback draws a linebacker, and slipped a pass between traffic to his right. He found freshman forward Tyler Motte standing alone with an open net, and he got the credit for a goal that Bennett developed.
For the Wolverines, these plays can be just as important as a goal but won’t show up on the scoreboard. Those plays have also been few and far between.
“We’ve got to take more pride and be smarter about what we’re doing with the puck,” said Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers. “If the shooting lane is blocked, we have to find a passing lane. We’ve got to get the puck behind the first layer of forwards and get it to the net.”
Freshman defenseman Nolan De Jong and Bennett stand out as the Wolverines’ top offensive defensemen among the six that have seen time thus far.
Bennett, who excels in bringing the puck up the ice, has given his team the best chances to score by not only sparking odd-man rushes, but also pushing his own team down the ice faster.
“The good thing about the defense is that it’s our job to play defense,” Bennett said. “But at the same time, I think if you kind of be like a fourth forward in the zone, that can cause trouble for a lot of teams.”
De Jong, younger and lankier than most of his teammates, uses his powerful shot for a leg up but has struggled to tally shots consistently. This weekend against Boston University and UMass-Lowell, De Jong combined for just two shots, and most of his attempts never made it to the goaltender past the traffic.
But don’t fault De Jong for the lack of offense. Along with freshmen teammates Michael Downing and Kevin Lohan, the focus has been on playing sound defense, the primary role they were brought in to perform.
“I’m still getting a feel for getting pucks at the net,” De Jong said. “I think I’m being put in a good position right now to help produce offense, but I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that.”
Part of the slow start is due in part to the forwards up front, who as a collective group need to find the defense more. But for an offense that hasn’t been able to find the back of the net without a bit of luck, any type of production is welcome.
If the offense can increase its scoring this weekend, the defense should likely fall in line.