That’s what the No. 4 Michigan hockey team calls sophomore forward Brendan Brisson. On the ice, Brisson is a mirror image of Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, scoring one-timers from the circle with machine-like efficiency. The only difference is that Ovechkin shoots right-handed; Brisson’s a lefty.
With that kind of scoring touch, the Wolverines have leaned on him to the tune of 16 goals, many of which came from his favorite spot on the right circle. But there’s a key piece of the equation that must be addressed before he takes those open shots:
Feeding him the puck takes a lot of moving pieces.
Building an offensive identity on puck possession, Michigan’s skaters quickly cycle the puck around to find the perfect shot. And Brisson stick isn’t their only destination. With so many adept shooters — including sophomore forward Matty Beniers (15 goals) and senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg (10 goals) — it’s easy to see why.
“We have good enough players that they can handle a bad pass or whatever, but obviously you want to give them a good one,” sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott said. “… Wherever you put it, they’re gonna find a way to get it in the net.”
Relying on puck movement to get opposing defenders to bite, the Wolverines have to lull opponents into a side-to-side dance. Their frequent passing controls the music, catching opponents off-guard as they up the tempo. Especially on the power play, the orchestration usually crescendos into a goal horn.
But sometimes Michigan hints at where the puck will go next. And once the Wolverines tip their hand, opposing backcheckers go all in. Instead of feeding a shooter like Brisson, those stick-first lunges force passers to move the puck quickly and make it harder to set up a quality shot.
Either way, Michigan’s decisions result in a grade-A chance. Passing to an open flanker commits the defense to one side, allowing a shooter to crank off a one-timer. Skating around them opens up the slot, leaving nothing but a surprised goaltender between the Wolverines’ sharpshooters and the net.
That’s where a tendency to look for one-timers can get tricky. When Michigan has found itself in the latter situation, players have often forced extra passes that spoil the opportunity. Other times they find Brisson’s one-timer, but he’s in a tough position to shoot and the puck whistles over the net.
“We missed the net a lot,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said of their top line’s shooting against Massachusetts. “I joked after Saturday’s game that I thought they were going to have to go replace the Plexiglas behind it.”
The decision to shoot or pass is a split second one, especially given that the effectiveness of one-timers lies in their speed. Part of Michigan’s tendency to overhandle comes from delaying that choice, moving the puck again and again to get a cleaner look.
But even if the Wolverines dawdle setting up shooters, it’s because they can afford to. If no one is going to take the puck off their sticks, then they’ll keep capitalizing on their one-timer lethality. Minnesota didn’t defend that shot on Saturday, and Michigan scored twice off it. Neither did Massachusetts, who let Brisson rip a one-time goal.
However, Michigan will soon be without Brisson when he suits up for the United States Olympic team. The Wolverines’ sixth-ranked scoring offense will have to rely on a new shooter. With as many puck movers as the Wolverines have, that solution should come easy:
Someone will have to be Ovi III.