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All season, the star-studded Michigan hockey team has started senior forwards Garrett Van Wyhe and Nolan Moyle. To those unfamiliar with the bold strategy, this unwavering decision seems suspect — on a roster laden with NHL talent, why start fourth line checkers?

In the NCAA Tournament, these seniors showed exactly why.

In both rounds of the Allentown regional, Van Wyhe and Moyle — alongside senior forward Jimmy Lambert — provided an early offensive spark after their line scored less than a minute into both games. And their importance to each game stretched far past the opening shift.

“They really played how we wanted them to play,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said after Friday’s win over American International. “I tried to match them up against one of their best lines because I knew they wouldn’t cheat for offense and (would) play hard.”

Facing those top units, the senior line consistently came out ahead. Against the Yellowjackets, the senior line completely foiled their offensive attacks and never allowed a goal against. 

Against Quinnipiac, the Wolverines’ “senior citizens” beat the opposing top scorers a little differently. Every member of the senior line scored a goal — both at even strength and while shorthanded — to build Michigan’s lead. The Bobcats couldn’t score on them until the third period, and even those lapses fell more on mistakes from the back end.

There’s an old saying that it’s impossible to win a hockey game in the first minute, but it can surely be lost with a poor start. Facing do-or-die stakes in the postseason, Michigan can’t afford to do the latter. By starting its senior line, it’s a surefire way to start each game right.

“You look at the rest of the games that have been played in this tournament and usually it’s the team that scores first that wins,” sophomore forward Brendan Brisson said. “So just getting off right away with the goal is really important.”

But the senior line’s success extends far past its starts. It also isn’t afraid to take offensive chances all game long.

It’s a mentality that has shown up in big games all season. On the road against Western Michigan, Moyle and Van Wyhe combined for a key goal to put Michigan up 2-0 — a lead that padded their eventual overtime win. 

The same happened in the “Duel in the D” game against Michigan State, when Lambert scored a crucial shorthanded goal during a major penalty kill. When the Spartans tried to mount a comeback by scoring twice on that same penalty, he added another to push them back underwater.

Plays like that emphasize the maturity of the senior line. It rises to the occasion when the Wolverines need it most, single-elimination games included. Whether it takes ferocious forechecking or brazen shot blocking, the senior line puts itself on the line.

Michigan’s seniors are a seasoned group, too. All three have played at least 120 games, and they’ve played a similarly resolute role in most of those contests.

That leadership is crucial for a team trying to win out in the Frozen Four. It’s a big reason why Moyle and Lambert wear A’s on their jerseys, and why Van Wyhe actively leads his teammates in warmups and on the bench.

Michigan chooses to start its senior fourth line every game because it gets them off on the right foot every game. It might not be the most skilled line on the Wolverines’ bench, but it embraces every moment and calms its young teammates’ nerves with its poise. It’s a huge reason why Michigan’s seniors start every game.

So in the Frozen Four, it’s no secret who’s going to start.