Lee Moffie pass exemplifies Michigan hockey’s hot transition offense

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By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 20, 2013

Sometimes all it takes is one pass to score in transition.

The transition game starts in either the neutral zone or the defensive zone, but when senior forward Kevin Lynch scored the Michigan hockey team’s first goal on a breakaway during Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Western Michigan, the play started deep in the Wolverines’ own zone.

Junior defenseman Jon Merrill made a safety pass back to senior defenseman Lee Moffie, who then immediately found a streaking Lynch down the ice. With a perfectly timed and well-placed pass, the puck landed directly on Lynch’s stick mid-stride. The play wasn’t completely over though, as Lynch had to bury the breakaway chance past Bronco goaltender Frank Slubowski, but it started behind the Wolverines’ blue line. It was the epitome of a transition goal.

“(Lynch) was coming off the bench and he skated hard,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He demanded the puck with speed, and that’s something we’re always talking about. Don’t just stand there because you’re too easy to cover. He was on the fly, and Moffie gave him a perfect pass.”

Michigan has scored in transition this year, but against Western Michigan it seemed that the defensemen and forwards alike communicated better than usual, while anticipating where the puck needed to be.

Getting the fast-break offense going can be important to control the flow of the game, and as was the case on Saturday, it can result in an early goal that changes the momentum. Michigan has had bigger issues to focus on this season than pushing the puck for those transition goals, though.

“We have a lot of our neutral-zone drills where we’re either forechecking or we’re transitioning the puck and attacking,” Berenson said. “It’s something I think that this is the time of year where, hopefully, everything you’ve worked on this year starts falling into place.”

And the ability to get out into transition isn’t one individual’s job. It’s a combination of the defensemen seeing the entire ice and predicting the best spot to send the pass, and also the forwards maintaining possession if the puck makes it that far.

“Half of it’s on me to get open and be there with the right speed, and the other half is just for the defenseman to see me and make that play,” said junior forward Luke Moffatt. “It has to do with both people.”

Moffie’s pass to Lynch, for example, never would've happened without the combination of the forwards and defensemen. Lynch made an impressive play to beat Slubowski, and as Berenson said, Moffie “threaded the needle.”

And sometimes when the pass isn’t there, the defensemen are forced to carry the puck up themselves. On one of freshman Jacob Trouba’s two goals Friday night in Kalamzaoo, he single-handedly carried the puck from the neutral zone into the Broncos’ zone and ripped a slap shot for a goal. This isn’t an everyday play, but Trouba has been a force to reckon with all season on the fast break. He has easily been Michigan’s best rushing defensemen, and this has allowed him to set up plays and score goals in transition.

When the pucks get dumped into the Wolverines’ zone, the goalie can play a pivotal role in starting the offensive transition with a nicely placed pass. But freshman goalie Steve Racine, who has gone 7-0-1 in his past eight games said that he is “not the best puck-handler.”

Berenson, though, believes that as Racine has gotten more comfortable and confident this past month, his passing ability has also improved, especially last weekend against Western Michigan.

“He just has to pick his spots,” Berenson said. “When the puck gets dumped in, he didn’t try and overplay the puck, and that was good.”

Michigan’s transition game is one of many areas that have improved as the Wolverines have started to play better overall hockey. A good transition play can sometimes involve every player on the ice, and Michigan’s recent success scoring in transition speaks about the team’s turnaround and its ability to come together as a whole.