With a little more than 10 minutes left in its game against Minnesota, the Michigan hockey team trailed, 3-0, and needed a spark.

While the Wolverines would normally rely on players like senior forward Alex Kile or freshman forward Will Lockwood to supply a key goal, instead they got help from some unlikely sources.

Sophomore forward Brendan Warren was just inside the blue line when he passsed to freshman forward Steven Merl along the boards. Merl immediately fired the puck at the net, and while it wasn’t a menacing shot, the puck slid past Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn for the first goal of Merl’s his career.

Then, just six minutes later, senior forward Evan Allen tipped a shot from the point into the net for his first goal of the season, and Michigan was suddenly down only one.

The Wolverines’ comeback efforts would eventually fall short, but the offensive output from Allen and Merl provided the two players with some hope for the future.

“I finally got my (first) point in a while, so that always helps with the confidence,” Allen said. “And hockey’s all about confidence, so that helps a lot. And hopefully, I can take that moving forward into this weekend.”

Michigan has struggled to find successful offense this season. And while the most glaring examples of that come predominantly from the players on the top lines, like Kile — who were expected to produce at a high level — the fourth line has left Michigan coach Red Berenson with more questions than answers.

This has forced Berenson to shuffle multiple players in and out of the lineup seemingly every game.

“They’re competing for a job every week,” Berenson said. “We could have the same players on the fourth line every week if they’d separated themselves from the other guys. And then if they get in the lineup and they play well, then that gives them a chance to stay in the lineup or to get back into the lineup.”

The players understand this, too. With the constant changes in the lineup, it can be hard for the players involved in the substitutions to maintain confidence from game to game. For them, practice is not only an opportunity for them to prove themselves, but also a chance build confidence without the eyes of the Yost faithful on them.

“You have to play every practice like you’re getting ready for the game that weekend no matter if you’re in the lineup or not,” Merl said. “So that way when you do get called, you’re ready to go.”

Added Allen: “Confidence is something you’ve got to build off, it doesn’t just come. It’s got to come from your play and your teammates being behind you. So, that always helps when the teammates are behind you and the coaches are behind you and you get a few points here and there. But it also comes with playing hard and playing well. … There’s a lot of different factors, but once you get it, it’s nice to keep it on you.”

The duo’s play this weekend may be a step in the right direction for not just Allen and Merl, but also for the team as a whole. Because if the two of them can get results, it will take some of the pressure off the other forwards’ shoulders.

Berenson seems like he may reward the strong play against the Golden Gophers, especially in the case of Allen. Though lineups haven’t been officially set, Allen has been practicing with Kile and senior forward Max Shuart, who both played on the first line in Saturday’s game.

“I was really pleased that Evan Allen took a step last week,” Berenson said. “That’s what you’re looking for from those guys, is to step up. We didn’t think Evan Allen would be a fourth line player when we recruited him. … It’s about performance, really. It’s about performance every day, and then when you get a chance in games.”

With time still left this season, Allen and Merl will look to ride any momentum they have and earn more time on the ice. And if they do, they could provide the spark that the Wolverines desperately need.

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