Less than five minutes into the third period on Saturday, Nick Blankenburg received the puck near the blue line.
The freshman defenseman skated forward, looking for his shot at the point. Instead, he noticed that the lane straight to the net was open — traffic had cleared from the prior puck movement.
So he took his chance and skated straight to the crease. Left. Right. Left. Right. He weaved the puck back and forth before finding the opening he was looking for — a hole in between the Notre Dame goaltender’s legs. Goal, Michigan.
Generally, when a player scores his first collegiate goal, the player remembers it. It’s a milestone, after all.
But Blankenburg, ironically, remembered everything but.
“I was just planning on shooting it,” Blankenburg said. “But then I saw a lane open, and I kinda just blacked out right when it happened.”
It was a stylish goal, to say the least. And the inspiration comes from Blankenburg’s time as a forward, a position he had played his entire life before his time with the Okotoks Oilers, his team prior to Michigan.
“You can tell he’s got some patience and some poise,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson, “and some quickness, can skate, he’s a converted forward, so he goes in and makes it look easy.”
On his first goal, Blankenburg not only made it easy, but showcased the versatility that he adds to the offensive zone.
“Hopefully that gives even more confidence,” Pearson said. “He’s been playing extremely well for us, and he’s got some offensive capabilities, and that gives us another option on the blue line that can create some offense from the backend.”
Blankenburg doesn’t have much experience as a defenseman under his belt. Seventy games at the blue line is nothing in comparison with many of the players he’s competing against. And he’s quick to admit that he doesn’t fully know all the in and outs of the position yet.
But the reason he’s able to hold his own is his confidence as a skater.
“I just feel like the biggest thing is skating-wise, being a defenseman,” Blankenburg said. “It helps out so much, if I make a mistake, I can kinda back that up with my skating, just throughout this year.
“I mean, everyone can skate, especially at this level, so I just kinda play smart and use my speed to my advantage against the other guys, so that was nice to have that as a forward, and being able to transition that as a defenseman is nice.”
His speed was certainly put to use for his first goal. Once he reached the lane, no player was fast enough to clog it with traffic or put a man in his path to prevent the shot.
“And I feel like it’s really important being up at the blue line, and using my speed to be open and to get shots through from the point to be able to beat guys and get through to those shooting lanes.” Blankenburg said.