Griffin Luce has been around the highest levels of hockey for most of his life. His grandfather played with Michigan coach Red Berenson in the NHL, and Luce himself spent the last two years playing on the United States National Team Development Program’s Under-17 and Under-18 teams, considered to be the most elite collection of hockey talent in the country for those age groups.
But this year, Luce — a freshman defenseman under Berenson at Michigan — has found himself in a bit of an adjustment period with the Wolverines.
“Obviously getting used to the pace of play in college at the beginning of the year — it wasn’t a challenge, but it took some time,” Luce said. “But now that I found the role that I know that I need to play, I think I just (need to) continue to do that in practice every day and get as much feedback from the coaches as possible.”
That role, as described by Luce, is a “shut-down guy.” He goes onto the ice with a goal of neutralizing the other team’s best players with his size and physicality.
So far, Luce has filled that role rather nicely. He has proven his physical ability with multiple bone-crushing hits throughout the young season. But he has fallen victim to a few penalties when that physicality went too far, and that’s something that he’ll have to improve on in the future.
“There’s definitely a fine line,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “I think he’s the kind of guy we want to tread that line. You don’t necessarily have to have the last word, because we play hard between the whistles, and that’s something that Coach really stresses to us. But he’s the kind of guy that guys should be scared to go in the corners with.”
Added Luce: “I call it focused intensity and controlled aggression — having controlled aggression as opposed to just being reckless out there and taking penalties. Picking your spots is big, too. If the team needs a big hit or something, not going out and trying to headhunt guys, but let the play come to you and take advantage of that opportunity when it presents itself.”
The main area where Luce has yet to come into his own is on the offensive end. In fact, when he isn’t laying opponents out on the ice, Luce may not leave a huge impression at all. But for defensemen, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Defensemen are judged on their mistakes,” Berenson said. “Forwards always get judged on their good plays, so it’s just about unfair for defensemen. But Griffin is a player who, when you don’t notice him in a game, that’s when he’s playing his best.”
Luce obviously has some work to do before he is a top defenseman for Michigan. He has taken some unadvisable penalties this year and has taken part in his fair share of shoving matches after the whistle.
But so far, his size and physicality have paid dividends. And if his family and personal history are any indication, it’s a good bet that the rest of Luce’s game will shape into form, and he will be fully adjusted soon.