- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 4, 2013
Not once, not twice but three times sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe connected with freshman forward and linemate Boo Nieves for a goal last weekend during the Michigan hockey team’s sweep of Michigan State.
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Senior forward Kevin Lynch joined Nieves and Di Giuseppe on the line, and the trio finished the weekend with an impressive 11 points.
Nieves, who played a stellar series the prior weekend despite Michigan’s sweep at the hands of Western Michigan, continued his hot streak. He tallied an assist and two third-period goals during the Wolverines’ 3-2 victory on Friday night against the Spartans, one of which ended up being the game winner. And then a night later, during Michigan’s 5-2 victory, he earned another multiple-point game when he scored his seventh goal of the year and notched his 14th assist.
Despite the line only scoring three goals during the weekend sweep, Di Giuseppe had a hand in every Nieves goal. Di Giuseppe came in with nine assists on the year, but his five assists upped that total to 14, which is good enough to tie Nieves for the team lead in that category.
“Boo’s got great vision, and Phil has started getting into open spots pretty well,” said senior forward Lindsay Sparks. “They’ve been playing in practice together for some time now, so they’re starting to get a little bit of chemistry and it’s starting to show up in games.”
The production from Nieves and Di Giuseppe was a welcome sight for a Michigan offense that has at times struggled to find the back of the net. Early on, it appeared that senior forward A.J. Treais would be the Wolverines’ offensive leader, but after leading the NCAA in goals the first three weeks of this season, he has only recorded one goal since Jan. 11.
And Lynch had the most unheralded performance of the line — at least on the stat sheet. He finished with one assist, but his physical, grinding play enabled Di Giuseppe and Nieves more than once to have such good looks.
Michigan coach Red Berenson referenced a play where Lynch created a turnover in the Spartans’ zone, Di Giuseppe picked up the puck then passed to a streaking Nieves down the ice for a goal. This is the kind of play that might not show up on any highlight reel, but is crucial to the success of any line.
“We don’t measure everybody on stats, and Lynch, who’s one of our most physical forwards every night, digs out a lot of loose pucks, and he creates a lot of space for the guys that are playing with him,” Berenson said. “He’s an important part of the line, even though he might not be getting the stats.”
Lynch has skated with many different lines this season, and his physicality has been evident every night he’s in the lineup. Though Lynch hasn’t had the most productive season in terms of statistics — just 14 points on five goals and nine assists — he has given the team a boost with his intangibles, such as defensive coverage or his presence on the penalty-kill unit.
Whether it’s Nieves’ speed, Di Giuseppe’s ability to find the open man or Lynch’s all-around physicality, the line’s success this past weekend wasn’t unprecedented. Lynch has been a three-year starter and Di Giuseppe had an impressive rookie campaign last year that included 11 goals and 15 assists. But Berenson knows that 11 points from a line won’t be a common theme and shouldn’t be expected each week.
“We were opportunistic and we were lucky, but when you work hard, you get lucky, so that was a good weekend for them,” Berenson said.