When it comes to scoring goals, the No. 5 Michigan hockey team is incredibly top-heavy.
While sophomore forwards Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke along with freshman forward Adam Fantilli comprise one of the highest-scoring lines in the nation, the Wolverines still need more. It’s unsustainable to get nearly half of your goal production from one line, a number that climbs above 50 percent when you include freshman forward TJ Hughes’ three power play goals — where he plays with the three members of Michigan’s first line.
Add that to the fact that nine of the Wolverines’ 62 goals thus far have come from defensemen, and you end up with Michigan’s bottom nine forwards combining for less than a third of its goals. That lack of production throughout the line sheet has already come back to bite them on multiple occasions.
But as the Wolverines mounted a comeback against No. 9 Harvard on Friday, the secondary scoring finally began to break through. Michigan scored its final three goals with the first line on the bench to bring the game to a draw.
And after mentioning a need for more secondary scoring following the Wolverines’ loss to Minnesota on Nov. 18, Naurato flipped his tone to describe Friday’s uptick — albeit in few words:
“It was great,” Naurato said.
On two of the three goals, that production began with freshman forwards Rutger McGroarty and Gavin Brindley. The pair each racked up two assists on the night, after combining for a plebian one point in the month of November.
“I thought Brindley and McGroarty had their best game of the year, just flying around the ice,” Naurato said. “We’ve talked about both of those guys using situational skating to create space and be deceptive, and they did an unreal job with it.”
On Michigan’s second goal of the night, Brindley and McGroarty used their speed to hunt the puck down, generating constant pressure in the offensive zone. After McGroarty narrowly missed a shot of his own, the pressure that he generated allowed sophomore defenseman Ethan Edwards to come in and create space for himself in the slot, slicing through traffic and ripping it into the net.
On the game-tying goal, the pair’s speed made an impact once again. With the offensive pressure applied again, Brindley sped to the puck behind the net, forcing it out of a kerfuffle and onto junior forward Philippe Lapointe’s stick, open in the seam for his first goal of the season.
“Phil, (senior forward Nolan Moyle), the guys that are out there with them, we talk about delivering more pucks off the rush and getting to the net,” Naurato said. “It just creates chaos, and when you create chaos they get running around and you attack in waves.”
Just as Brindley and Lapointe created and capitalized on chaos, so did Moyle on his goal. Moyle crashed the net as the puck bounced from stick to stick, ending up wide open right at the net front and easily putting it in.
Moyle’s goal highlighted a key component of the Wolverines’ strategy in trying to produce goals beyond the first unit:
“Our other three lines have a lot of big bodies,” Edwards said. “Getting to the net is key. When we deliver pucks and they’re getting through, that’s when we’re successful.”
In the final thirty minutes of Friday’s affair, that approach was successful. In the third period in particular — which Lapointe described as “the best period of the year” — Michigan’s bottom three lines constantly created chaos, crashed the net and put pucks on target. It was a welcome change for the Wolverines, creating offense without having to rely on the top line.
Yes, Fantilli, Samoskevich and Duke are usually good for at least a goal or two in every game. But in the time that those three aren’t on the ice, Michigan needs to create offense in a way it often hasn’t thus far.
The final third was a step in the right direction. But it needs to be the first of many, not just an anomaly for the Wolverines if they want to turn ties like Friday’s into wins.