- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 18, 2013
As of Wednesday, senior forward Kevin Lynch has appeared in 158 games for the Michigan hockey team.
How many has he missed?
He sat out the Wolverines’ first series last year against Bentley because of back spasms. He said that he’d been struggling with back spasms for the entirety of the preseason, and the pain was to the point where he knew his back wouldn’t recover if he didn’t take any games off.
Though senior forward A.J. Treais has littered the stat sheet more than Lynch the past two years, he hasn’t matched Lynch’s stability and consistency over the four-year period. The youthful struggles that affect most freshmen transitioning to college hockey, the injuries that are constantly a problem in a physical, grueling sport like hockey or even the rare one-game suspension that can result from a game misconduct never resulted in Lynch regularly watching the game from the stands.
It’s neither his goal-scoring prowess nor his good fortune to avoid bad injuries that have separated Lynch from his classmates. Berenson attributes Lynch’s success to his hard work, physical play and big body.
“I think he’s a mentally tough kid and he’s mature physically,” he said. “He’s one of our stronger kids, too, so he not only plays and has been a bit of an iron man, but he’s strong.”
How lucky has Lynch been in avoiding a serious injury? This season, for example, four of the seven Michigan defensemen have missed multiple games due to an injury. That number might be higher than average, but it shows how difficult it can be during the long college hockey season — the Wolverines’ first exhibition game against Windsor came on Oct. 9 and their last regular-season game will be played on March 2 — to stay healthy.
And Berenson, who not only played three seasons at Michigan but also went on to have a 20-year NHL career, relates to the trials and tribulations these players face every day of the season.
“When you’re a hockey player, if you’re a good player, there’s not a day in the season that you don’t wake up and something doesn’t hurt,” he said. “It might be your finger, it might be your ankle, it might be your knee.
“There’s always something that hurts and you don’t get over that until you’re a coach — that’s the good thing about coaching. You wake up and you realize nothing hurts anymore.”
Before arriving at Michigan, Lynch played two seasons with the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor where he was one of the best goal scorers — he compiled 24 goals and 24 assists for a total of 48 points in 63 games during his last year.
Lynch’s consistency and productivity for the U-18 team was expected to continue for the Wolverines, but he — along with Treais, who played alongside Lynch in the NTDP — struggled early on in their careers to find an identity in Wolverines’ offense.
“I think he’s a different person now,” Berenson said. “He came in and it was all about him and his stats and his goals and his points, and now I think it’s all about what kind of player he is and how hard he works every night. If you would have talked to somebody when he was a freshman, you wouldn’t have said he was one of our most physical players, but he is now.”
It’s this physicality that has made Lynch a regular name on the Michigan line chart over the years. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, he uses his big body to play a physical type of hockey. Especially this year, his physical presence has been something of a bright spot for a defense that currently ranks last in the CCHA in goals allowed per game, and third worst in the NCAA.
And it’s not that Lynch is physical to the point of being too aggressive. Though he ranks second on the team in penalty minutes with 34, he has just four more than senior defenseman Lee Moffie and 36 fewer than freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba. Not only does Lynch’s physicality force turnovers and give Michigan a necessary presence deep in the other team’s zone, but it also helps him create offensively.
“When he’s on, all he has to do is hit guys,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “If he hits guys, people give him more space, and if you get that space, he’s able to make plays. He doesn’t put himself in a position to get hit awkwardly, and I think that kind of attributes to him always being in a position where he can hit you instead of you hitting him.”
And Lynch didn’t become the physical player that he is today overnight. He says that his physical mindset came from when he was a freshman, struggling to find the back of the net. Instead of just working on honing his offensive skills, he worked on other intangibles that a good forward should have — transforming into the physical player that bangs bodies every night.
Even after Lynch upped his physicality, offensive production didn’t always come effortlessly — or at all. His freshman campaign endured a 13-game pointless streak, and a year later he experienced an even more brutal 18-game pointless streak. But during this time, his physicality and defensive presence were constants. It’s these attributes, not his line on the stat sheet, that have made him the consistent player Berenson has seen for so long.
“Lynch has gone through some slumps of all slumps,” Berenson said. “But I can tell you that he never gave up and never quit working. He never quit checking, never quit hitting so you still wanted him in the lineup even though he might not have been at his best.”