From his first game in a Michigan hockey sweater, Garrett Van Wyhe made an impact.
In the Wolverines’ season opener against Vermont, Van Wyhe witnessed the Catamounts hit sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes from behind multiple times. The freshman forward had enough of his teammate taking unnecessary hits and got in the face of the Vermont player, seemingly telling him to back off Hughes.
For the rest of the game, Hughes was relatively unscathed.
“I don’t like taking penalties, but sticking up for our teammates is one of the things that morally, I think is all right,” Van Wyhe said Wednesday. “I’m not gonna just let our team get bullied, and I’m gonna make sure that everyone knows that I’m gonna stick up for my guys. … They’re my brothers, so I’ve got their backs.”
But outside of standing up for his teammates, Van Wyhe hasn’t had a huge impact on the stat sheet. He has started as the fourth-line center in all nine games for No. 16 Michigan (5-4 overall, 1-1 Big Ten), but his linemates changed throughout the first few weeks, making line chemistry — and offensive success — more difficult.
In the last couple weeks, it seems that the line has settled in with freshman forward Nolan Moyle and sophomore forward Dakota Raabe on the left and right wings, respectively. Van Wyhe, Moyle and Raabe have found some chances to score since they’ve been playing together, but across the three of them, Raabe is the only one who has found twine.
The first and second lines are carrying the Wolverines on offense to this point, with 37 combined points — compared to the nine combined across the bottom two lines. That’s an unsustainable recipe across a full season.
“We’re still trying to find some scoring from some different people,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “We’ve got a couple lines that are carrying us. We need some other guys to kick in here and there, and obviously that secondary scoring.”
Now that the players seem to be locked into positions, it could be Van Wyhe, Moyle and Raabe that help the Wolverines find that secondary scoring they’ll need through the rest of the season.
In the 2-1 win against Notre Dame on Nov. 9, it was that fourth line of forwards that kept the game moving in Michigan’s favor. It seemed that nearly every time they were on the ice, they were stealing the puck from the Fighting Irish or putting pressure on goaltender Cale Morris.
“They’ve controlled the play in the other team’s offensive zone when they’ve been out there, and that’s what you’re looking for,” Pearson said. “They’ve been good momentum changers, too. There’s been a couple times in games we’re playing in our zone, we throw them out there and they change the momentum and they play in the other team’s zone, so good for them. We’re gonna need that.”
Now, it seems, the only thing left for Van Wyhe, Raabe and Moyle is to break through on the stat sheet. The scoring chances are coming more and more frequently, but they haven’t found consistent success on those chances yet.
With Van Wyhe as the center of the line, the offense is expected to flow through him. Pearson said he’s good at distributing the puck but added that some of his open shots have caught him a bit off guard.
“I think he’s pretty right on that one,” Van Wyhe said when told of his coach’s comments. “I think I get a little too anxious if I find myself with a little more time than I thought and kinda just get in my own head. Calming down is kinda the perfect term for it. Just rely on my instincts and be able to bury chances.”
When Van Wyhe and the rest of his linemates get the chemistry they need, they’ll be valuable additions to the Wolverines’ offense. And the chemistry has improved every game they’ve played together, so it seems to be only a matter of time before there’s a breakthrough.
“They’ve got the potential to score,” Pearson said. “I think once they get a little more chemistry and once they kick in a couple, that dam’s gonna break, and look out.”