Michigan's top line continues rolling in tie against No. 4 Ferris State

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 11, 2013

Alex Guptill made his second-period goal look effortless in a showdown between No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Ferris State Wednesday at Yost Ice Arena.

As he rounded the left-side boards from behind the net, the junior forward toe-dragged a loose puck in the slot and fired it low blocker side past Bulldog goaltender CJ Motte. That goal extended Guptill’s point streak to six games, and he seems to have found his groove after a sluggish start to the season.

“(Michigan coach Red Berenson) has been on me to get my defensive play a little stronger, and it started in our own end when I won a battle against the ‘D,’ ” Guptill said. “It was a good play by Derek (DeBlois) and (JT) Compher. It ended up loose right there, and I just wanted to get rid of it quick.”

As Guptill has begun to make his name a mainstay on the stat sheet, Berenson has noticed some subtle differences in his game. The forward’s patience in both zones and determination to keep his game simple has paid off the Wolverines’ offense. In the past four games, Michigan (2-0-0 Big Ten, 10-2-2 overall) has netted 17 goals — good for the highest total in any four-game stretch this season.

Two weeks ago, Guptill called himself a “streaky” player. Around that time, Berenson placed him on the top line with freshman JT Compher and senior Derek DeBlois, who have found some valuable chemistry with Guptill.

Compher was also riding a five-game point streak coming into Wednesday’s 2-2 tie against the Bulldogs (10-0-2 WCHA, 13-2-3), and he attributed his recent success in the offensive zone to his linemates’ compatibility on the ice. The trio leads all of Berenson’s recent line combinations with 34 points this season.

Berenson values Compher’s grittiness on his highly-skilled line, and the forward has established himself as a critical two-way player for the Wolverines.

You need a little bit of everything on your line,” Berenson said. “JT brings it every day, and he brings it every game.”

When Compher and Guptill are at their best, the Wolverines’ offense becomes extremely dangerous. As last season’s leading scorer for Michigan, increasing Guptill's productivity in the offensive zone has been critical to the team’s success. The Wolverines’ five-game unbeaten streak coincides almost perfectly with their 3-0-1 mark since Guptill’s point streak began against Niagara on Nov. 22.

Guptill points to his one-game suspension at the beginning of the season for violating team rules as a cause for his slower start. Prior to his recent scoring outburst of three goals and two assists in four games, Guptill had hit twine just twice in nine games.
But after playing alongside each other for their first two seasons at Michigan, Guptill already has a great familiarity with DeBlois. The junior says DeBlois and Compher supply a more defensive approach, which allows him to generate more quality chances in the offensive zone.

“They’re both unbelievable players,” Guptill said. “They’re obviously two stronger defensive players, so it’s nice to have them back to cover me a bit so I can wheel a bit more on offense. It’s been a good combination.”

The past two weeks have been the first time all year that Berenson has stuck with consistent lines. With reliable production from three of his standout forwards, he’s found a combination worth keeping in Guptill, Compher and DeBlois.