Michigan still switching up lineup late in the game

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 6:56pm

Michigan coach Mel Pearson has been impressed with the development of his younger players.

Michigan coach Mel Pearson has been impressed with the development of his younger players. Buy this photo
Zoey Holmstrom/Daily

 

With just three series left in the regular season, Michigan coach Mel Pearson is still keeping his lineup in flux.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines (8-10-2 Big Ten, 13-13-2 overall) — No. 16 in the PairWise rankings — have gotten heavy production from its top forward line of junior Cooper Marody and seniors Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs. With 78 points between them to date, it’s undeniable the trio has been a dominant force on offense.

“We’ve got some guys here, you know what they’re gonna do every night,” Pearson said on Wednesday. “As Red (Berenson) always said, they’ve put money in the bank, they’ve made the deposits. They want to take a thousand dollars they’ve got enough there.

“But other guys haven’t put money in the bank, they can’t take a thousand dollars out.”

And at the outset of the season, it seemed as if Michigan was completely reliant on its top line.

However, some mid-season stagnation disrupted the system, Pearson had to get creative with his lines and who would populate them.

Since that point, the Wolverines can only be described as eclectic.

As a testament to their versatility, freshmen forwards Jack Becker and Dakota Raabe combined for three goals this past weekend against then-No. 18 Wisconsin.

Clearly Michigan is allowing, encouraging even, upward movement in the lineup for solid play. And that’s highlighted by Becker and Raabe’s outstanding performances in the past two weeks.

On Saturday, Raabe and Becker played on the third and fourth lines, respectively, which proves their offensive contribution to the system isn’t going unnoticed.

However, as teams transition into the postseason, they usually have a perfect idea of who they can go to for points and what their lineup will be.

“As far as that goes, you are what you are,” Pearson said. “I think now we should have a pretty good idea of who you are and what your lineup is, and who can do what.

“Now having said that, some of the younger guys have made some steps, so it allows you to test some things a little bit.”

Save for injuries, it’s rare to see a team completely switch up its lineup before massive end-of-season matchups.

“You get down to the time of the year now when you don’t get many more opportunities,” Pearson said. “With each game, the implications grow.”

According to the PairWise, Wolverines sit at the last possible place to make it into to the NCAA Tournament. Why would Pearson switch his lineup around now with such high stakes?

The answer is that he wants to foster an environment in which anyone can earn a spot at the forefront of the offense.

And that seemed to work through this point in the season, as players like Becker and Raabe – even junior defenseman Joe Cecconi, who contributed a goal to this weekend’s offensive effort – have been putting up much-needed numbers.

“I think a lot of guys are stepping up that weren’t at the beginning of the year,” Calderone said Wednesday. “So they’re getting more opportunities and everything, and I think there’s a lot of excitement around the room. There’s so much competition to get out on a line and I think that’s overall better for our team.”

In its upcoming matchup against Michigan State — bottom-dwellers in the Big Ten — Michigan has a perfect time for its non-performers to move into the performers category.