Two weeks ago, after the No. 9 Michigan hockey team played a weekend series against Dartmouth, the Wolverines switched up their top two lines.
Junior forward Alex Kile moved to a line with senior forwards Boo Nieves and Justin Selman, while freshman forward Kyle Connor joined junior forwards JT Compher and Tyler Motte.
And it worked.
Michigan scored 12 goals this weekend, and the top two lines were involved in nine of them.
“The coaches saw something that even us players didn’t notice,” Selman said. “It’s just that little tweak, that one player, that one kind of thing, which opened up the scoring for both of the lines.”
More importantly, Selman’s line, which had scored just three goals in the last six games, found its scoring spark once again.
Friday, Selman scored the goal to tie up the game at four, and Connor scored an empty-net goal to finish off the Badgers.
But the line felt they were clicking, and it showed early Saturday night.
Just 1:29 into the game, Selman found himself wide open in the left circle and fired the puck at the Wisconsin net. Badger goaltender Matt Jurusik made the initial save but couldn’t corral the rebound, and Nieves was able to put the puck away to put Michigan up early.
Selman gave a lot of credit on the goal to his new linemate, Kile, who made the cross-ice pass to Selman to start the goal-scoring play.
“(Kile’s) a really, really skilled player and makes some great plays,” Selman said. “On Boo’s goal, that first one, he made a great pass and hit me coming down the ice. He’s really skilled, he’s easy to play with. He’s physical too, so he plays really hard on both ends.”
But the trio wasn’t finished.
Just three minutes later, the line went on the penalty kill. Once again, Nieves and Selman found themselves on an odd man rush. But this time, Selman took the initial shot and cleaned up the rebound to put Michigan up by two goals less than five minutes into the game.
The line also scored the Wolverines’ third goal of the night when Selman again finished off a play, putting Michigan up by one after Wisconsin tied back up the game at two.
“(The adjustment period) was maybe two drills in practice,” Selman said. “We kind of even said like ‘Wow, we’re kind of gelling pretty good.’ I think we found chemistry through the weekend, and we kind of expected to have a good weekend after making some good plays earlier in the week.”
But Selman noted that while on the stat sheet the change seemed to make a big difference, there wasn’t much of a difference between Kile and Connor.
“Kile plays a similar game to Kyle Connor,” Selman said. “He is that skilled, crafty, shifty-type forward mentality.
“I can’t really put my finger on the difference between (Connor and Kile), but they’re both really, really good players.”
For Kile, though, playing on a line with Nieves and Selman was a little different than his old line.
“On Motte and JT’s line, I was waiting for the puck to come to me,” Kile said. “They’re two players who like to grind in the corners and work for the puck. Playing with Boo, he adds a little bit of speed. I like to try to keep up with him. I’ve always liked playing with fast players.”
Even after the statistical success of his newly minted lines, Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t completely pleased with them after the game.
“I can’t say I didn’t like them, but I can’t say I did like them,” Berenson said after Friday’s game. “I thought it was a real scramble of a game.”
But even if Berenson wasn’t completely pleased with his new lines, the changes brought offensive success.
And with a big series against Minnesota coming up, the Wolverines will take scoring anywhere they can get it.