It can be easy for a defenseman’s impact to go relatively unnoticed, even one as talented as Cam York. The sophomore defenseman has shown all season that he’s more than capable of making impressive plays in the offensive zone, but more often than not he has sacrificed some flair for smart defensive play.
Even though the scoring output isn’t always there, ask anyone involved with the Michigan hockey team — or the Big Ten, for that matter — and they’ll tell you he’s one of the Wolverines’ most important players. After countless games, Michigan coach Mel Pearson has singled out York’s impact, even as other players produced more offensively.
On Sunday night, in the Wolverines’ 4-0 win over Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, York didn’t do anything particularly flashy, but was once again one of their most important players. His smart, responsible play on both ends of the ice allowed him to tally a goal and an assist.
“He just controls the play when he’s on the ice,” Pearson said. “He’s just so cerebral, he’s just so smooth. He doesn’t waste a lot of energy. He just plays a very efficient game, and (has a) high hockey IQ, and then he’s got the skill to go along with it.”
York’s assist came on Michigan’s first goal of the game, when he hit freshman forward Brendan Brisson at the right circle for a one-timer on a power play. The play was nothing special — Brisson and his lethal shot are a focal point on every Wolverines’ man advantage — but it showed just how good York is at making the seemingly simple play.
York controlled the flow of the power play, moving the puck and keeping the Buckeyes on their toes until he had the perfect opportunity to get it to Brisson with a screen in front of the net. And he didn’t miss.
“(Brisson) had a really good shot,” York said. “I didn’t really do much, just trying to put it in his wheelhouse.”
While York always makes sure that he isn’t sacrificing a potential defensive assignment to create offense, he’s no stranger to jumping up on the rush. Midway through the second period, he joined in on the rush and crashed the net. His reward was a goal when senior forward Luke Morgan’s shot was redirected into the net off York’s skate.
“We talk to our forwards all the time, ‘Just go on the far post, just drive the far post if you’re the player without the puck,’ ” Pearson said. “If you watch tonight’s game back, a lot of our guys didn’t do that. They want to go to the near post. Cam’s a defenseman and he just goes to the far post and he’s there.”
From that point on, York went quiet offensively. Instead, he turned his focus to the defensive end, making sure that Michigan didn’t give Ohio State any unnecessary odd-man rushes with a multi-goal lead. Rather than take risks and pinch in to keep the puck in the offensive zone, York dropped back to give the Buckeyes trouble in the neutral zone.
When there was a loose puck near the net, York covered significant ground effortlessly to regain possession. On an Ohio State five-minute power play in the final 10 minutes of the game, York was everywhere, laying his body on the ice to block shots, getting his stick in passing lanes. Like Pearson said, he doesn’t waste his energy, allowing him to make plays like he did on Sunday.
“He just does a lot of things, some with flash, but there’s a lot of little subtle things that he does when he’s on the ice that we really appreciate as coaches,” Pearson said.
On Sunday, York anchored the Wolverines, just as he had all season. Brisson scored two goals and junior goaltender Strauss Mann posted a shutout, but the always-dependable York was just as crucial. Just take it from Mann.
“He’s probably one of the best players I’ve ever played with,” Mann said. “His decision making, it’s just second to none. It’s pretty crazy. The guy barely makes mistakes, I don’t know if he ever does. … What really makes them special is just how solid he is back there.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about him.”