Mental focus and a little luck dramatically improve Caporusso's on-ice performance

BY MICHAEL EISENSTEIN
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 5, 2008

After lighting the lamp eight times in eight games, sophomore Louie Caporusso is the No. 2 goal scorer in the country.

He had three scores after eight contests last year. And in 33 games last season, the sophomore netted just 12.

Naturally, the question is how Caporusso made the major improvement to his game, but his coaches couldn't pinpoint anything.

“I don’t know if I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said.

Wolverine coach Red Berenson reacted similarly, adding, “you expect players to improve from one year to the next.”

This year, the centerman is just finding the net, plain and simple.

“He’s scoring goals on some shots that aren’t great shots or scoring chances even,” Berenson said. “The puck is going in for him right now. It could go the other way just as quick, so you don’t want to get too excited.”

But while puck luck is certainly helping Caporusso, there’s more to it than that. When he had to step up as the top-line center last weekend against Ohio State, Caporusso posted three goals and three assists.

Coaches and players have long described Caporusso as having a certain offensive instinct for being in the right place at the right time. But that’s always been a part of his skill set.

So what’s caused this big jump in productivity this year?

“I just figured out that you need to shoot the puck in order to score,” Caporusso said.

Caporusso said he would “try to make the perfect play” or “force plays that weren’t there,” last season. But watching game tape of former Wolverine Chad Kolarik, who scored 30 goals as a senior last year, drastically changed his approach.

“I saw he just shot the puck from everywhere,” Caporusso said. “I mean, the kid would just shoot the puck. He was putting up like hundreds of shots in a season, so I figured those got to be connected some way.”

Caporusso has 25 shots this year, six more than any other Wolverine. Sophomore Carl Hagelin and freshman Robbie Czarnik each have 19.

“Louie shoots to score, a lot like (former Wolverine Kevin) Porter and Kolarik,” Pearson said. “Those were guys when they shot the puck they’re really shooting to score, and other guys are just shooting it.”

But that’s not all his teammates are noticing on the ice.

Senior forward Travis Turnbull, who played with Caporusso last season and early this year, has seen his mental focus improve significantly.

“The main thing he’s doing is he’s competing harder,” Turnbull said. “He’s really jumping into holes, moving his feet, and that’s why he’s having so much success.”

And that’s the other part of Caporusso’s game that he says is finally meshing. The Ontario native has always relied on his father for psychological advice, which often comes during their long drives between Ann Arbor and Toronto. Caporusso’s dad never played hockey beyond the pond, but he’s helped Caporusso learn how to break out of a first-period slump or stay hungry after a strong opening frame.

On their drives, they’ll discuss best- and worst- case scenarios for the upcoming season, and how Caporusso should handle both. As a result, Caporusso now reorganizes his thoughts after every intermission.

“He’s helped me a lot over my career and I think I’m starting to get old enough to understand everything he’s been telling me my whole life,” Caporusso said.

That, along with a bit of puck luck, has put Caporusso near the top of the nation statistically, and certainly in a much bigger spotlight.

“I played with a lot of great players here at the University of Michigan,” Turnbull said, “and he’s certainly at the top of that list.”