For a moment, Nick Granowicz became Bobby Orr.
While driving to the net in the waning minutes of an exhibition against Windsor, the senior forward caught an edge and went airborne. Levitating four feet high while finishing his shot — feet first, unlike the forward-leaping Orr — Granowicz fired a backhander past the goalie.
At the cost of tailbone soreness, the goal earned him fifth on the SportsCenter Top 10 and a photo of the stunt earned Big Ten Hockey photo of the week.
But for Granowicz, that goal was bigger than a playful Instagram post. It was a step toward a consistent spot in the lineup. And as tough roster decisions come up for the Michigan hockey team, he and other fourth-liners have to make the most of their opportunities.
“It looked like he was sitting in a chair in the air, but good for (Granowicz),” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said after the game. “I thought him, Draper, Estapa and Lapointe were really, really good. Those guys kind of rotate on that fourth line and good for them, they have something to prove like all these guys and they stepped up.”
For junior forward Philippe Lapointe and Granowicz, this season’s blank slate could be a welcome opportunity. Both were healthy scratches for a large swath of last season, mostly playing when the Wolverines’ Olympians were in Beijing. They each performed well, leading to tough decisions from the coaching staff. But nonetheless, both remained out of the lineup as Michigan marched to the Frozen Four.
During that time, though, Granowicz and Lapointe did more than watch.
The pair worked harder to get back in the lineup. In practices, they completed drill after drill and rep after rep, all while donning white healthy scratch jerseys. Fighting against the odds, they didn’t lose sight of where they wanted to be.
For Granowicz in particular, getting in the lineup this year — and more importantly cashing in on his chances — is the culmination of that comeback arc.
But no matter their growth to get on the ice, there are two other players — sophomore forward Mark Estapa and freshman forward Kienan Draper — vying for just three fourth-line spots this weekend against Lindenwood. Both played well in the exhibition, with Estapa putting up a three-point night and Draper showing off his playmaking on the power play.
Unsurprisingly, Saturday showed just how bad they want it.
“I thought those guys were really good this weekend,” Naurato told The Daily Tuesday. “I think they led a lot of analytic stuff like offense generating plays and expected goals. That fourth line was No. 1.”
Those stats were admittedly skewed by external factors. Thirteen penalties between both teams meant 5-on-5 ice time came at a premium. With Michigan’s top skaters constantly playing special teams, the fourth line carried the load at even strength.
Still, Saturday was full of much-needed individual victories for that group. They produced three goals — two on the power play alongside Granowicz’s aforementioned Orr impression. All of them made a case to play this weekend, and the decision of who to cut won’t be easy for Naurato and his staff.
At the end of the day, though, all those players want to do is help their team win when they’re on the ice.
“I definitely want to play and try to contribute to team success,” Granowicz told The Daily. “I feel like I’m capable of doing that too. But it just starts with getting better every day. Pushing my teammates to get better every day so we can be the best team we can be this year.”
No matter who makes the cut on Friday, the Wolverines know they have contributors. All four skaters can deliver when Michigan needs them to, and that’s what makes the final lineup decisions so difficult.
Even so, they represent just how deep Michigan’s roster is.