MINNEAPOLIS — Jimmy Lambert knew that rubber was about to meet the road last weekend. Every game, from that point on, was do or die for him, and the Michigan hockey team.
The resulting sweep at the hands of the Badgers wasn’t helpful, to say the least. But the freshman forward stepped up when the Wolverines asked him to do so. In both games against the Badgers, Lambert recorded a goal and an assist, which he credits to trusting his teammates and playing in the flow of the game rather than trying to force in a bad shot or skate on his own too much.
“(Michigan coach) Mel (Pearson) always talks about trusting your teammates and they’ll (help you) do your job, and just to worry about doing yours,” Lambert said. “The more that you put your trust into that, good things start to happen. By worrying about what you’re doing, you can put yourself into scoring opportunities.”
Added Pearson: “We need that. But the freshmen have to understand — this is a different level. … They have to understand that we need them. Once you have a little bit of success as an individual, how do you handle success?”
Lambert’s own two-game sample might not be enough to point the needle definitively, but a plethora of productive freshmen suggests his success could carry over into the Big Ten Tournament. Strauss Mann remains, on many nights, the Wolverines’ best option in the net. Since the turn of the new year, forward Garrett Van Wyhe has been one of Michigan’s most important pieces, even on the fourth line.
Same for Nolan Moyle, whose five goals in a four-game stretch against Michigan State and Ohio State transformed that fourth line into a weapon that Pearson isn’t afraid to match up against any team in the country. Even Nick Blankenburg emerged from the bottom of the defenseman pairings into a jack-of-all-trades skater that stepped in as a forward when needed.
“Some guys come in as freshmen and are ready to go, but other guys it takes a while,” Pearson said. “When you have so many young guys you’re going to have the inconsistencies, and they’re all going to have inconsistencies at a different time of year.
“… At the same time, they can play as they did against Ohio State, like Strauss or Van Wyhe and Moyle and guys like that, Jimmy, then you’re good.”
Undeniably, Michigan is young. Though many players still remain from last year’s Frozen Four team, Pearson has preached time and time again, through the Wolverines’ inconsistencies and series splits, that they didn’t start off with the mental edge that a senior-laden team like Ohio State would.
Lambert, though, knows that he, the freshmen, and Michigan have the chops to make a push.
“You’re in a do or die situation,” he said. “You have to go in knowing you’re going to give your all.
“I’m fairly confident that this team will do that this weekend.”