A little over three months ago, Nick Blankenburg had the primary assist on a power play goal against Wisconsin.
Senior forward Jake Slaker passed the puck back to Blankenburg who waited at the blueline. He hit a one-timer in the direction of the net. Jacob Hayhurst and Will Lockwood were positioned in front of the Badgers’ goaltender acting as a double screen. Lockwood managed to get his stick on the puck, and it connected with twine. The goal gave Michigan a 2-0 lead in a game it went on to eventually lose.
“Blanks did a great job just shooting the puck today,” Lockwood said on Nov. 30 against Wisconsin. “Earlier in the year, he would’ve shied away from that. But he’s got a lot of confidence right now, and he’s got a great shot.”
Saturday night, an almost identical play to the goal against the Badgers happened.
Blankenburg had the puck at the edge of the offensive zone. The Wolverines were on the man advantage, and he had options to pass.
Slaker drifted near one of the faceoff circles. Blankenburg recognized his positioning was perfect for a one-time shot off a pass — a Slaker staple. But he didn’t take the shot. Instead, he dished the puck back to Blankenburg who rifled a shot as he slid on one knee.
In front of Michigan State netminder John Lethemon stood Hayhurst and Lockwood. Once again, just like on Nov. 30, Lockwood tipped Blankenburg’s shot into the net. This time, the goal broke a scoreless tie and put Michigan ahead.
“I just tried putting it on net,” Blankenburg said. “I know the earlier powerplay had a similar shot. Just try getting it to the net. I’m confident in Hayhurst being in front of the goalie. I know he’s a smaller guy, but he does a good job, and Will getting that double screen is big, too.”
Being able to convert on man advantage opportunities is critical, especially in postseason play. Saturday night, Blankenburg’s shot yielded a goal that gave the Wolverines crucial separation from the Spartans in an eventual 3-0 win. It gave them momentum. With solid defensive play, it ended up being all Michigan needed to win.
Blankenburg’s been a key component on the powerplay all season for Michigan. At the beginning of the season, it wasn’t as apparent. The powerplay struggled. A lot. But Blankenburg and his teammates believed in the system. They bought in.
Now, they move the puck much better. The movement allows for much better scoring opportunities. And recently, Blankenburg has been quarterbacking the whole thing.
He’s one of the more offensive-minded defenders on the team. It’s likely because for the majority of his hockey career, he played forward.
And like Lockwood pointed out back in November, Blankenburg’s confidence in his shot is apparent. It’s not just visible on power play goals like the one Saturday night. He’s tallied 68 shots and four goals this season. The development of his shot has been a point of focus for him this year.
“Just working on it in practice and just getting the opportunity to be there,” Blankenburg said, when asked about his shot. “I think in the start of the year we were kind of figuring out what worked and what we liked (on the powerplay). I think we kind of found that out from trial and error and whatnot.”
On Saturday night, Blankenburg’s shot influenced the game. It gave Michigan enough to complete a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal sweep of the Spartans. As the Wolverines move on to the semifinals against Ohio State, having a source of offense from a defender and a confident player running the power play unit could be a difference maker.
And that’s exactly what Blankenburg provides them.