DETROIT –– For the past couple weeks, sophomores Quinn Hughes and Josh Norris have been away from Michigan hockey and with the U.S. National Junior Team. The 2019 International Federation World Junior Championship –– in which the pair are representing the USA –– runs until Jan. 5. That means that the Wolverines are without their top two point-scorers for the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, leaving a void on offense.
Both Hughes and Norris are skilled enough to create scoring opportunities on their own. As a result, a big question coming into the weekend is where Michigan could turn to for its offensive production.
Juniors Will Lockwood, Nick Pastujov and Jake Slaker are all obvious choices given their upperclassman status and their point totals on the season –– 15, 13 and 13, respectively –– being the next-highest on the team after Hughes and Norris. But the contributions came from elsewhere on Sunday afternoon. Instead of upperclassmen, it was a pair of freshmen that stepped up in place of the sophomores.
Defenseman Nick Blankenburg and forward Nolan Moyle both recorded points for the Wolverines when they opened up the GLI Tournament against Michigan Tech with a shootout loss.
Moyle scored his first goal of the season in the second period of Sunday’s loss. He was able to shield off Michigan Tech defenders on a breakaway to get the puck on net. Though initially saved, the rebound hit off a defenseman’s skate and slid underneath goaltender Robbie Beydoun’s pads. Moyle has been in and out of the lineup this season, so getting his first career goal out of the way may serve as a confidence booster moving into the second half of the season.
But more importantly at the time, Moyle’s goal temporarily tied the game at 1-1. The Huskies regained the lead minutes later.
This time it was Blankenburg who helped tie up the game once more. He fired in a wrist shot from the left point which took a deflection off of junior Adam Winborg in the slot before finding the back of the net.
It is only fitting that Blankenburg, who took Hughes’ spot as part of the top defensive pairing, recorded an assist –– Hughes paces Michigan with 17 assists. As a former forward, Blankenburg is also one of the better defenseman skaters on the team –– much like Hughes. Though Hughes’ presence cannot be replaced by any defenseman on the roster, Blankenburg performed admirably in his place.
“We had a lot of guys step up today,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I thought Blankenburg had a real good game. Not filling in for Quinn Hughes –– you can’t fill in for him but you can take some of his minutes and he did a nice job too tonight.”
If nothing else, Sunday’s performances by the freshmen show the potential to receive quality contributions from anybody on the roster on a given night.