Last weekend, the Michigan hockey team opened its season in a somewhat familiar fashion. With a 3-2 lead late in their first game against Union, the Wolverines couldn’t hold on. The Dutchmen scored two goals in the last five minutes, toppling Michigan, 4-3.
Last season, the Wolverines would have had their prolific offense to turn to. But many of those scorers have left the program. Without them, Michigan may not be able to thrive in high-scoring games. But one line it can turn to is its one full line of returning players.
Sophomore forwards Dexter Dancs and Brendan Warren, along with junior forward Tony Calderone, form that line. And though they may not be able to provide the same offensive firepower that was prevalent last season, they have shown an ability to step up defensively.
After the Wolverines fell to Union on Friday, Michigan coach Red Berenson and his staff decided to give the trio more defensive responsibility the next day. They were assigned to Union’s first line, and the difference was obvious.
The Dutchmen’s starting forwards, who were involved in every one of the team’s four goals on Friday, were held scoreless, and Michigan prevailed, 4-0.
“That was a good move for Michigan,” Berenson said. “That first line of (Union’s) was really dangerous on Friday, and not so dangerous on Saturday.”
Much has been made about Michigan’s youth, and the Wolverines will certainly need contributions from their freshmen to succeed this season. But among the large amount of first-year players on the team, Dancs, Warren and Calderone will be relied upon to produce early.
In Friday’s season opener against Union, the line netted one goal, though it didn’t come when all three were on the ice. Senior forward Max Shuart lunged forward on the penalty kill and knocked the puck toward Calderone — who had just reemerged from the penalty box. The junior finished the job with an inside-out deke on the goalie just before sliding into the post and dislodging the net.
Despite the three totaling 12 shots on goal in the two games, Calderone’s goal was the only time they lit the lamp. And for the future, converting those opportunities into goals will be vital.
“They’ve gotten some good chances,” Berenson said. “And I think the familiarity will be better in the next game, but it’s a work in progress. You’ve got three good players, they’ve all been here a year, so there’s no excuse. They know how we should play — the right way to play. And then they’ve got to figure it out together.”
Added Calderone: “We need to do a better job down low in the offensive zone. I think we’re kind of cheating towards the offense a little bit. If we look toward (defense) first, I think it’s going to come. And the more opportunities we get, the better chance we have to score. So I think if we keep working, we’ll be all right.”
It wasn’t ever obvious that Calderone, Dancs and Warren would be playing together, though. After all, last season, none of them played center. But knowing that Warren had played the position before he arrived in Ann Arbor, Berenson saw an opportunity to put three experienced players together.
So far, Warren’s shift has been relatively seamless. The sophomore led the Wolverines in faceoff wins for both games against Union.
“I played (center) my whole life growing up,” Warren said. “So some things came back to me a little easier. And then I’m just trying to figure out things like (the defensive) zone, positional for college. It’s a little different. So it’s been nice, I’m just still working on it.”
Berenson isn’t exactly comfortable waiting for the three to come along. He needs consistent production from somewhere, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be from this line.
“I need all three of them to play better and to create more offense,” Berenson said. “I’ve seen guys click right away, and I’ve seen guys take a little longer, so we’ll see.”
But Calderone, Dancs and Warren say they don’t feel intense pressure. For them, patience is the key.
“We definitely think we can lead in terms of some younger guys coming into the lineup,” Dancs said. “But I don’t think there’s any pressure.”
Added Warren: “Once we get on track and we get some goals, they’ll start coming in bunches.”