As expected, the No. 2 Michigan hockey team has gotten off to a fast start. It boasts one of the most lethal offenses in the nation, an abundance of talented blueliners and is stout in net.
Even more impressive is how the Wolverines have dealt with injuries. Senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg was sidelined against Michigan State and junior forward Johnny Beecher only recently made his debut, but their depth has allowed them to weather the storm.
The way they’ve dealt with adversity is something most teams would sit on pridefully, but for Michigan, complacency isn’t an option.
“You think at 8-2 we’d be all happy and all set and everything’s rosy, but we’re still trying to find our way,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We’re still trying to get better. That’s the beauty, I think there’s so much growth and potential for this team.”
Dealing with this many talented players is a good problem to have. Every game Pearson and his staff have to decide which combinations to roll with and now, with the Wolverines getting healthier, that problem will only become more prevalent.
“Having Johnny Beecher back in creates another dilemma of putting a center in and that’s why Jimmy Lambert gets shifted to the wing,” Pearson said. “I thought Jimmy has been playing extremely well in the middle, but, when you have the luxury of bringing a guy like Beecher back in something’s gotta give.”
The addition of Beecher will only help Michigan, but it could also lead to some muddled lines.
Against the Spartans, there were a few irregularities in the lineup. Junior forward Nick Granowicz slotted into the first line right wing spot, skating with sophomores Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson. Going into the weekend, Granowicz was still searching for his first point of the year. After just two games with Johnson and Beniers, Granowicz has two assists.
Freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich has also found himself in a new role. The smooth-skating winger excelled early on, partially due to playing with the dangerous Johnson and Beniers duo. But with Granowicz taking over on the first line, Samoskevich was bumped to a line with sophomores Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau. This adjustment is hardly a detriment to Samoskevich’s game, and considering Brisson and Bordeleau’s explosiveness, he may see even more offensive opportunities.
“There’s going to be some changes, almost game to game, week to week,” Pearson said. “Just trying to keep everybody involved. We’re still learning some things for our freshmen, like the chemistry Mackie brings.”
For the defensemen, the same problem presents itself. With Blankenburg out, sophomore Steve Holtz took his spot on sophomore Owen Power’s right side. The 6-foot-4 Holtz was solid in his first two games, displaying his physicality and toughness, especially around the crease.
Blankenburg, meanwhile, brings a special combination of offensive and defensive dynamism, but even more importantly, is a veteran on a defense full of underclassmen. The captain has his hopes set on a return against Penn State this weekend, further complicating things for Pearson and company.
“Blankenburg should be back, so where do you put him now?” Pearson said. “We like the Hughes and Truscott pair. (If) we leave (Power) and Holtz together, where do you put Blankenburg?”
These are first-world problems for Michigan, but ones that should ultimately help them navigate the season and prepare for the playoffs.