On Thomas Bordeleau’s left hand, a tattoo spells out some guidance:
“You are the master of your own fate,” it reads in Latin. “Daily decisions determine destiny.”
It’s a saying Bordeleau has followed since he was 13, when his father — a skills coach with the Montreal Canadiens — gave him a bracelet with those words. Those daily decisions could play a major role in determining the Michigan hockey team’s destiny in its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018.
All season, Bordeleau has been Michigan’s rock. Whether he’s the top line center or a third line facilitator, the sophomore forward’s adaptability creates offensive opportunities for Michigan. But above all, Bordeleau’s burgeoning two-way game has opened up countless opportunities for his teammates.
“We have a paper that we’ve read for many years to talk about offense as being the creativity and the fun part of the game, and some nights it’s not there,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “And when it’s not there you have to play rock solid defensively, and that’s what (Bordeleau’s line has) done.”
With the many ways Bordeleau has played this season, it’s easy to see why that’s the case.
Bordeleau’s usage mirrors the motion of a yo-yo. He’s been a visionary playmaker, an aggressive power forward and most recently, a conservative two-way center. Whenever Pearson wants to try something new, Bordeleau is the one making the biggest change — all for the sake of rolling four productive lines. Now at the end of the season, Michigan has reached that goal, in large part thanks to Bordeleau making the most of his unstable lines.
The payoff looks well worth the price of his comfort.
The Wolverines have become an entirely different team since stabilizing their lines during the Big Ten Tournament. They grind down opponents by sending out four well-rounded units, constantly raising pressure and dictating play. It’s how Michigan generated 86 shot attempts against Notre Dame’s chokehold defense two weeks ago in the team’s first victory over the Fighting Irish this season, and it’s a huge reason the Wolverines beat Minnesota for the conference title last week.
It’s a situation that causes headaches for opponents. With Michigan’s current lines, who do you key on? The struggle to answer that question all comes back to Bordeleau’s adaptability.
Take freshman forward Dylan Duke’s goal on Saturday. Before the score, Bordeleau backchecked against Minnesota forward Sammy Walker’s line — the Gophers’ highest-scoring combination — like his life depended on it. After Minnesota doubled down on offense and overcommitted its defensemen, Duke scored off a 2-on-1 rush.
Bordeleau wouldn’t have made the defensive play to spark that sequence back in October, when he often lurked closer to the point looking for an offensive rush. But under a million different usages, Bordeleau has polished his overall game to a mirror finish.
He’s not just a playmaker that can make laser-like passes all over the ice. He’s not just a heavy scorer that digs in the corners for goals. He’s not just a shutdown center that eats away the clock on defense.
He’s all of those things.
Bordeleau is Michigan’s Swiss Army knife, and his line with fifth-year senior forward Michael Pastujov and freshman forward Mark Estapa is just another use of his many tools.
“I think we’re pretty responsible defensively, and I think Bordeleau has really improved his game a lot in the defensive zone, buying into the system,” Pastujov, who has been Bordeleau’s linemate for most of the last two seasons, said. “(We’re) trying to be a line that gives energy and doesn’t take energy away from the team.”
That’s the beauty of Bordeleau’s game as of late. He’s willing to play wherever he can to find ways to win. All of Michigan’s top three lines can create dangerous rushes — and even its fourth line can score if it gets enough space — but the Wolverines’ effectiveness at scoring relies on Bordeleau’s versatility.
Despite all the times that Bordeleau moved throughout the lineup, he simply grew to meet new expectations. He is the master of his own destiny, and that could determine where Michigan ends up in April.
And if his last few games are any indication, that’s exactly how the Wolverines want it.