When it comes to production, the line of seniors Dexter Dancs, Tony Calderone and junior Cooper Marody had been lacking. Though playing on the top line in three of the Michigan hockey team’s first four games, the trio accumulated a mere two points — both in the season opener.
The veteran line recognized that its slow start didn’t align with its own expectations.
“I’m going to be honest, the first four games weren’t great for (our line),” Dancs said. “They were bad. And the coaches sat down with us, and we talked about what we could be working on and doing differently.”
The absence of contributions from the line was most apparent in the Wolverines’ sweep of Vermont. Michigan’s potent offense saw six of its seven goals throughout the weekend netted by underclassmen.
But this past weekend, the first line showed that when most urgent, it was ready to ignite. Facing then-No. 15 Penn State, the line broke out of its early-season scoring slump, reemerging as an offensive threat.
Dancs, Calderone and Marody combined for six goals and nine assists on the weekend, supplying a majority of the Wolverines’ 24 points and creating increased opportunities for themselves than they had in prior weekends.
“I thought they were really good, going into a place where they haven’t had a lot of personal success before,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “But they played really well. Our team needed that. I was happy for them.”
Michigan — the clear underdog heading into its weekend against the Nittany Lions — could not have put up the fight it did Friday or tallied a win Saturday without the elite performance of the top line.
Dancs notched his first multi-goal game in the Big Ten opener Friday with a goal from the top of the faceoff circle in the first period and a go-ahead goal for the Wolverines in the second period. Assisted by his linemate Calderone, Marody also netted a goal to give Michigan an advantage in the third. The performance of the line allowed Michigan to stay in the game throughout all of regulation, though eventually falling in overtime.
Saturday night, each member of the forward line collected three points apiece, responsible for a majority of the Wolverine goals. This led Michigan to an improbable 5-2 victory, allowing it to avenge the results of the previous night.
It’s clear that underclassmen will contribute heavily this year. The Wolverines are youthful as the third-youngest NCAA team in the country. And last season, the bulk of Michigan’s contributions came from freshman and sophomore players, as well.
The line of Dancs, Calderone and Marody remains the only line comprised of all upperclassmen. As the top line and as leaders of the team, they believe that their performance moving forward should parallel that of this weekend. And they find this all the more obligatory in situations like this past weekend, where younger players don’t know what kind of atmosphere to expect beforehand.
“As an upperclassmen, you need to be a good leader for everybody to follow,” Marody said. “Going into an atmosphere like Penn State, the crowd is going, lots of noise, and it can be intimidating for younger people … but definitely as upperclassmen, you need to teach the younger players how to play on the road.”
Though it took a little time to shake off the rust, Pearson believes that the chemistry and skill of the upperclassmen line verifies its top placement and predicates its future success.
“They’ve got that experience,” Pearson said. “You feel comfortable putting them on the ice at the start of a game. I know they are going to be ready.”
Added Marody: “If you have success the last thing you want to do is say, ‘Oh I’m fine, I had a great weekend’. If anything, it should motivate you more to continue working hard and having good habits on and off the ice.”
And with a series against Ferris State series looming just two days away, the top line’s readiness and desire for success in every practice and game should help it extend its hot streak.