Amateur Guptill draws comparison to professional as power play leaps forward

Erin Kirkland/Daily
Michigan freshman forward Alex Guptill mixes it up in front of the net against Ohio State in the Frozen Diamond Faceoff. Buy this photo

By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 22, 2012

SOUTH BEND — The Michigan hockey team's power play awoke from its nearly month-long slumber during the Wolverines’ series split against Notre Dame this weekend.

It took the season’s most physical series to date, in which the penalty boxes were rarely unoccupied, to ignite a spark in the unit. In fact, the man advantage was so opportunistic that Michigan coach Red Berenson felt compelled to liken its most lethal scoring threat, freshman forward Alex Guptill, to Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Holmström.

“It’s good to see the power play get some confidence and get something going,” Berenson said. “I (said) last week we were getting better, and I think we’ll continue to.”

Last week's minor improvements aside, the power-play unit had to do something it failed to do in the weeks since the Great Lakes Invitational: get shots through the first line of defense. And when senior defenseman Greg Pateryn wasn’t in the penalty box himself, he was rifling shots from the point that slid through untouched — by the Fighting Irish defensemen, that is.

Instead, they were redirected by Michigan forwards — usually Guptill, who earned the glowing comparison from Berenson on the strength of his pair of deflection goals in the series.

“It’s definitely hand-eye coordination,” Berenson said of Guptill’s scoring chances near the crease. “You see Holmström do it every night. Obviously, (Guptill’s) got a nose for the net. Those were big goals he scored.”

Guptill chuckled when told Berenson associated him with one of the NHL’s most ferocious forwards around-the-net.

“That’s high praise,” Guptill said, before suggesting that he simply got “lucky” on the second of his scrappy power-play tallies.

In the Wolverines’ 3-1 loss on Friday night, Pateryn sent one towards the net from the top of the circle. Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays said he played one of the best games of his career, but even he couldn’t catch up to Guptill’s deflection. The third-period tally wasn’t enough to spark a Michigan comeback, but it did mark the Wolverines’ first goal on the man advantage since Dec. 30.

On Saturday, the power play conjured up a veritable copy of Friday’s goal. This time, though, Pateryn stood at the blue line, his shot piercing the first line of Notre Dame defense. The result of the play was the same — Guptill’s pretty stick work redirected Pateryn’s shot to find twine.

“Credit to Pateryn there for shooting the puck,” Guptill said. “It kind of gets the power play going.”

And it was only fitting that on a weekend where power-play scoring dominated the Wolverine stat sheet, the game-winning goal also came from the man advantage. Junior forward A.J. Treais received a pass from freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe and skated the width of the ice to find the perfect angle, beating Summerhays stick-side. It was his second goal in as many series and gave Michigan a lead that it would not surrender.

Impressively, the Wolverines stole the show on the power play over the weekend against the CCHA’s best team on the man advantage. And by working hard around the net, they began earning those close-quarter goals that weren’t possible with opponents blocking shot after shot in the past few weeks.

Nobody is rushing to declare the Michigan power play “back,” but this weekend showed some organization from the unit after weeks of two-minute spans of chaos.