A plethora of factors go into the No. 3 Michigan hockey team’s second-best scoring offense in the nation. Scheme, speed, faceoff wins and puck control are all important.
But sometimes, it boils down to pure talent.
In the weekend’s sweep over Niagara, Michigan’s offense faced adversity at times. Whether it was a cold first period on Friday or tough puck luck on Saturday, the Wolverines had to get creative. The strategy paid off, as they outscored the Purple Eagles 10-1.
Highlighting that creativity was a third-period goal by freshman defenseman Luke Hughes from a nearly impossible angle — straddling the goal line.
“I’m gonna have to look at it on tape, just to see how it went in,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said following Friday’s game.
The tape doesn’t lie. With laser-like precision, Hughes managed to snipe the puck from centimeters left of the goal line. It snuck between goaltender Jake Sibell and the right goal post, traveling across the crease and catching the top left netting.
“I guess it was a tough angle, but I kind of practice that all the time,” Hughes said. “I just saw open net and I was trying to shoot for it.”
Added Pearson: “I mean he’s so good with the puck, you know, it doesn’t surprise me.”
The goal is emblematic of an added layer to Michigan’s already lethal offense. Opposing defenses are already consumed with trying to handle rebounds on the Wolverines’ strong shots, clearing the crease to avoid redirect opportunities and getting bodies in front of one-timer opportunities. The ability to score fancy goals from difficult angles adds yet another burden to defenses’ plates. Although uncommon, their deployment gives Michigan more opportunities to strike and more ways to confuse opposing defenders.
The next goal in Friday’s game was a flashy backhander from sophomore forward Brendan Brisson. He put a move on his defender on the right side of the net to create space, leaving the puck at a difficult angle from the goal and setting up the backhanded goal.
The backhand is a less common shot, one that the Wolverines have seldom used in their sprint to 68 goals in just 16 games. When deployed, it gives the offense a whole new look to work off of.
“It’s a real tough shot for a goaltender,” Pearson said. “… It comes off your stick differently when you shoot on your backhand, you just really don’t know as fully where the puck’s gonna go. … I wish we shot more of it. … The backhands’s a little bit of a lost art, so it’s good to see it.”
As conference play wears on, incorporating different looks by deploying less-common shots like the backhand will be key. It’s hard enough to face a team two nights in a row, and in a month or so Michigan will be facing conference foes for third and fourth times. Further developing and establishing offensive options now will be critical as those matchups approach.
In a game of momentum shifts, Michigan’s unprecedented talent advantage leads to nifty goals that keep the momentum squarely in its favor, giving it yet another advantage.
For a team already loaded with skill, the Wolverines’ increased creativity on the ice is sure to keep defenses guessing.