Until late December, Nolan Moyle had just two points — and neither were goals.
But on Dec. 30, the freshman forward found twine for the first time as a member of the Michigan hockey team. The switch didn’t flip immediately — Moyle added another goal two games later but it took him eight more games to get his third.
The next time Moyle lit the lamp, it was the first multi-goal game of his career with two tallies against Michigan State on Feb. 9.
Since then, he’s added another multi-goal outing and has at least one goal in three of the Wolverines’ last four games. Not bad for a freshman who didn’t have a goal until nearly the second half of the season.
“I saw (Moyle) last year score (in the USHL), and he has the potential,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson on Saturday night. “Sometimes it just takes a while until you feel comfortable with it. Good for him. We’re gonna need that.”
On Friday night against No. 7 Ohio State, Moyle’s two goals came at crucial times for his team. One tied the game with 10 minutes left in the third period, and the second was the game-winner. But for Pearson, the location of those goals was even better than the timing.
Both goals came in what Pearson calls the gritty area of the ice — the space below the faceoff circles and above the crease, just in front of the opposing goaltender. When players get to that space, scoring opportunities increase because there’s always someone in position to clean up a rebound and create extra chances.
“I think that’s a real good reminder for our players to watch that and see where Nolan got his goals from,” Pearson said Tuesday. “One was behind him, but the other two was — he’s going to the front of the net. In this day and age, with teams playing so well defensively and having good goaltending, you’ve gotta get there.”
Moyle did just that on his first goal on Friday.
Freshman forward Garrett Van Wyhe pushed the puck up the right side of the ice and wrapped around behind the net. His shot bounced off goaltender Sean Romeo’s pad which sent the puck out to Moyle, who was crashing down on the crease. It didn’t take much for Moyle to tap the puck home and tie the game.
The puck once again came from Van Wyhe on the game-winning goal. This time, his pass from the left side of the net went across the crease to Moyle, who was waiting to shoot the puck into the open right side.
“Garrett made two really good plays, really strong plays to the net,” Moyle said Tuesday. “I just happened to be in front and get a stick on it. Garrett and (sophomore forward Dakota Raabe) used their speed really well and did all the work and got the puck in front of the net.”
But as much as Moyle wants to deflect the credit, his goals were still largely the result of intelligent positioning and working to get to that area in front of the net.
After Friday’s win, Van Wyhe said that Moyle getting to the front of the net is something they’ve worked hard on in practice throughout the season. The two goals from that area on Friday cemented that their work is paying off.
The myriad of drills Pearson puts the Wolverines through every day in practice largely focus on getting to the top of the crease. With four of his seven goals on the season coming from that area, Moyle is clearly figuring out that the system works.
“We have a number of drills where the offense — and the main priority is to get to the net,” Pearson said. “We had to remind a few guys today that sort of get to an area and they stop skating and they’re still a long way (away from the net). We’re trying to attack the net more. A lot of different drills we do, especially with our forwards to get to a certain point on the ice and in front of the net. … Just a lot of different drills that are structured to that point. To get to the net and then hang around the net and finish.”
This weekend, Michigan goes to Wisconsin, where the Badgers play on an Olympic-sized ice sheet. The ice is 15 feet wider than traditional college or NHL rinks, which makes getting to the net more of a challenge. With so much extra space, it’s easy to stray away from the crease without realizing it and then have to work even harder to get back to the front of the net.
That could make Moyle’s knack to do so all the more important.
The Wolverines are one win away from hosting the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. And with five goals in the last four games, Moyle’s scoring ability may be what Michigan needs to get home-ice advantage.