Gritty fourth line proves successful

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By Michael Laurila, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 23, 2013

Junior Luke Moffatt, senior Jeff Rohrkemper and sophomore Andrew Sinelli — three Michigan hockey players that haven’t exactly been household names this season.

Moffatt, Rohrkemper, and Sinelli, who have played on different lines, or sometimes not even at all, comprised the Wolverines’ fourth line during their series split with Lake Superior State this past weekend.

Traditionally, the fourth line is not often called upon to produce a lot of points — it’s usually made up of some of the more unsung players on the team. Which is why when the line finished this past weekend with a combined two goals and four assists, it was a pleasant surprise for a Michigan team that came in with a four-game losing streak and an offense that had scored just nine goals during that span.

In the Wolverines’ 6-4 victory over the Lakers on Friday night, Moffatt tallied his second and third goals of the year, both coming off of assists from Sinelli, and a secondary assist from Rohrkemper. With a goal against Bowling Green on Jan. 8, Moffatt, who had failed to tally a goal all season, now has three.

“I was having a tough start production-wise this season — a little snake bitten,” he said. “Not that I wasn’t playing well, but pucks weren’t bouncing for me and going in.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson has frequently switched up the lines this season in an attempt to get the offense out of scoring droughts. Considering that Moffatt played with both Sinelli and Rohrkemper on a line for some of last season, this familiarity proved useful.

Having played on every line this year at some point or another, Moffatt has experienced the ups and downs that come with different linemates. But this versatility also enables him to better understand how important production from the lower lines can be.

“When you’re not on the fourth line and they put up some points or do anything good out there, it’s just great energy to the team,” Moffatt said. “The guys feed off the fourth-line energy even more than the first or second.”

Despite Moffatt leading the score sheet against Lake Superior State, Sinelli had an equally impressive weekend. He’d appeared in just seven games this season and his two assists on Friday doubled his season point total — one goal. Berenson said that if he keeps playing like he did against Lake Superior State, “he’ll play a lot.”

Despite Berenson’s constant shifting of the lines, he knows not to tinker with something that’s working. Rohrkemper, who was called on earlier in the year to play defense due to a depleted defensive corps, has also seen time with different lines this season.

“If the line is playing well, that’s the main thing,” Berenson said. “You hate to take a player that’s playing well and put him on another line that’s not playing well. You’re not sure if you’re going to get a win-win or a lose-lose, so maybe you’re better off keeping them the way they are.”

When Michigan has lost this season, the next weekend’s lineup was never a certainty. And even after the split, it’s almost a certainty that Moffatt, Sinelli and Rohrkemper will all find themselves playing some role for Michigan when it travels this weekend to play No. 9 Western Michigan.

The Broncos’ 1.88 goals allowed per game is the CCHA’s second-best defense, and if the Wolverines hope to have any offensive success, the lower-tier lines providing an extra-offensive boost might be just what the doctor ordered for Michigan to make a late-season push.

But Berenson knows that the Wolverines’ struggles won’t all be fixed by a couple of goals from a lower line — offensive and defensive production will ultimately be the result of a collective team effort.

“The fourth line is a good start,” Berenson said. “We’ve got two or three others lines that can pick up the slack. …We need production from anyone.”