During Saturday’s win over Lindenwood, the No. 6 Michigan hockey team debuted one of the youngest lines in the NCAA.
With freshman forwards Gavin Brindley, Rutger McGroarty and Jackson Hallum, the Wolverines second line boasts the fourth and eighteenth youngest players in the NCAA. Hallum, the outlier, is a “geriatric” 20 years old.
Despite their youth, the trio manned a top six role for the Wolverines together in the team’s second win of the season — and the three have already shown flashes of potential that they hope to build upon.
“They’ve been good,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “Jackson and Brindley can absolutely fly and Rutger’s a great playmaker, great vision who can score as well. I don’t think they’re there yet, but it’s exciting.”
This early in the season, there’s still much to be done. The three have not had an extensive chance to display their skillsets, but their speed and playmaking ability have already left their mark. On Friday, the trifecta logged four points before lining up together.
The talent is evident, but nevertheless, it can only go so far.
“Talent doesn’t win in college hockey,” Naurato said. “Older players win, because older players are disciplined.”
That’s not to say that the trifecta are undisciplined, but adjusting to the NCAA level means changing habits. And as freshmen in a competitive college environment, they undoubtedly have extensive room to grow.
“We all just work,” McGroarty said. “Hallum and Brindley got a really good motor. They put themselves in really good spots. I feel like I put myself in really good situations as well. We just kind of go off of each other.”
So far, the work has begun to pay off. In the third period of Saturday’s matchup, Lindenwood hung tough, down only one score with fifteen minutes to play. Then, the trio flashed the promise that they hope to continue.
Charging into the offensive zone on a three-on-two opportunity, McGroarty set a screen on front of the Lions defenders as Brindley left a drop pass for freshman defenseman Seamus Casey. From the top of the circle, Casey sent a wrister bar down for a goal that put the game out of reach.
The second line has done more than just put pucks in the back of the net though. A testament to their dedication, McGroarty, Hallum and Brindley led the team in plus-minus Saturday at two, one and one, respectively. It’s an early sample size, but a good impression nonetheless.
“They listen to coaches, listen to other players and they’re finding great success,” freshman forward T.J. Hughes said. “They’re all great players. They’re fast, they can shoot it and they work well together. It’s been really fun to watch them play.”
Their play looked effortless last weekend, albeit against an inferior opponent. But with Michigan’s first serious test of the season coming up against Boston University, the line will need to continue its growth trajectory.
For now, the Wolverines have to be satisfied with a 2-0-0 start, and a strong performance from their younger players. The three have the talent, as McGroarty and Hallum already have NHL affiliations, while Brindley is projected to go in the first round of the 2023 Draft.
For McGroarty, though, all the talent in the world doesn’t supersede the basics.
“If I see Brindley working, then I’ll start working,” McGroarty said. “If Hallum sees me work then he’ll start working. It’s a good line and I love it.”
The trio is still young, and has room to go; but if their efforts outside the game continue to mirror each other, the production on it will follow.