Faceoffs in hockey are a lot like arguing over who gets aux on a road trip. Win it and a team gets to crank their tunes on the ensuing possession. Lose it and they’re stuck listening to their opponent’s favorite playlist.
For the Michigan hockey team, it’s been hearing the other team’s music a whole lot this season, and it’s something it wants to address going forward.
“Think about it, if you have the puck off the draw, … you’re possessing the puck more than the other team,” junior forward Philippe Lapointe said. “So it’s a possession game. And if you’re winning more draws then you get the puck more.”
Ranked 42nd in the nation at faceoffs, the Wolverines are winning just 48.4% of their draws. It’s easy to pin control of faceoff situations on the player who touches the puck first — the center. And with three freshmen and two brand new centers playing there, they’re clearly learning the ropes at that position.
But the blame doesn’t lie entirely on the center’s shoulders.
Responsibility for faceoffs belongs to every skater in Michigan’s system. Everyone has a specific job to do, whether it’s holding back opposing wingers or quarterbacking a potential zone entry. On the majority of faceoffs that aren’t won cleanly, the biggest job is to create separation from opposing players.
Beyond just the center, the outcome of faceoffs hinges on the forwards flanking them.
“I think the biggest thing is just getting into your man right away and boxing them out,” Lapointe said. “I think there’s not enough emphasis on the wingers. … A lot of times those draws aren’t won cleanly. It’s a battle. So it’s important for those wingers to get into the other team’s wingers right away and just try and box them out and try to get the puck back.”
Sophomore forward Dylan Duke, one of the Wolverines’ grittiest players, echoed that sentiment:
“Just getting a bump on my guy so if we do win the face off clean, our (defense) has a little bit more time,” Duke said of his faceoff role. “And then if there’s a 50/50 puck, after I get my bump, (I’m) getting in there and trying to get that puck back for the (defense).”
Win or lose, the result of faceoffs belongs to all five skaters on the ice. Just look at Wisconsin’s first goal on Saturday, a set piece from the right circle.
Wisconsin’s center beat freshman forward Adam Fantilli to send the puck toward the wall and his own defenseman. Meanwhile, the Badgers’ wingers skated toward middle ice without being checked by junior defenseman Jacob Truscott or Duke. Shooting through traffic, a Wisconsin forward penciled their name into the box score. That loss isn’t just on Fantilli; it belongs to his entire unit that let the play unfold with ease.
Mistakes like that can be expected for a team employing new centers, learning their tendencies and acclimating to new roles. But in the same weekend, Michigan showed significant progress.
The Badgers have won 55.2% of their draws this season, good for fifth in the nation. And yet even though that one faceoff loss cost them a goal, the Wolverines beat the Badgers at the dot both nights by an overall 66-54 margin.
“I think we’ve been good,” Duke said. “Like there’s room for improvement, but I don’t think it’s been an issue, I think it’ll continue to get better.”
And if they can continue that improvement, Michigan might start picking the music a little more often.