- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 17, 2012
It’s only fitting that the Michigan hockey team's most surprising scoring line early in the season is led by one of its most puzzling enigmas.
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In a season when the defense was expected to be the hallmark, the third line, led by senior forward Lindsay Sparks, has emerged as a productive threat. Michigan coach Red Berenson has been known to tinker with the lines into the dark days of winter, but when scoring comes from unfamiliar places, it makes the forward corps appear significantly more stable.
The line, consisting of Sparks, junior Derek DeBlois and sophomore Travis Lynch, accumulated four points in Saturday night’s 7-2 victory over Rochester Institute of Technology. DeBlois said the three of them are “feeding off each other,” which can create problems defensively for opponents anticipating a checking line without much of a scoring threat.
“Anytime you’re plus-two or three one night and have a big plus four weekend, you hope for this best,” Sparks said. “It’s a nice surprise when it actually occurs.”
The biggest surprise has been Sparks himself. Last season, Sparks didn’t dress for 14 of Michigan’s games. So far this year, he has two points in as many games and has shown the potential to be a weapon from the Wolverines’ bottom six.
“(Sparks) has always been an offensively skilled guy,” DeBlois said. “He’s someone that people want to play with because he creates a lot of room up there, gets you the puck when you’re open and is not afraid to make a play.”
Sparks is no stranger to fast starts — last season, he had 11 points through the first seven games before fizzling down the stretch.
“I’m looked at for leadership since I’m a senior now,” Sparks said. “You lead by example. I’ve had good offensive instincts before, so I want to chip in offensively and be stable defensively and make sure we don’t get scored against. If we can score a goal here and there, that’s great.”
He added that faster decisions have played a key role in his early season success, as have better angle shots.
“I’m trying to get the puck away quicker,” Sparks said. “Less stick handling and just getting it on net. Shoot for rebounds and shoot high-percentage shots. I’m not trying to get in too tight and just shoot the puck and hope for the best.”
Berenson has had the trio together since the Blue/White Game on Oct. 7 — an indication that he is comfortable enough with the line to stick with it as long as the goals keep coming.
“I just think we’re keeping it simple,” Sparks said. “We’re all three veteran players who know what it takes to play. We’re just trying to work as a unit and work off each other. By doing that, I think we’ve had some success early on.”
That success for Sparks, and with it, the entire line, is the product of a blue-collar group that is ferocious on the forecheck. The early-season success of the bottom-six forwards, specifically the third line, has provided an encouraging answer to the recurring offseason discussion topic of where the goals will come from.