New lines show signs of recharged offense

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Erin Lennon, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 23, 2014

DETROIT — Midway through the first period Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, the No. 14 Michigan hockey team looked, well, like it had played just two games in three weeks.

First, freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort let a loose puck under his arm but fell on his back to earn the lucky whistle. Five minutes later, a poor defensive change by Brennan Serville forced freshman defenseman Michael Downing to defend a two-on-one breakaway attempt. Then, it was Nagelvoort again, this time skating into a pass en route to the bench.

But when the cobwebs were brushed off, the Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 10-6-2 overall) showed glimpses of the team they were earlier in the season, and they did so against Michigan State without needing late-game heroics from sophomore forward Andrew Copp.

Instead, the heroics came from his linemates.

In an attempt to reignite his dormant offensive threats, Michigan coach Red Berenson decided to shake up the line pairings heading into a rematch against the Spartans (2-3-2, 8-11-3). His newest line included Copp, sophomore forward Boo Nieves and junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe.

The trio combined for 13 shots, including an assist and a goal.

Tied at 1-1 with less than three minutes remaining in regulation, with Michigan’s seventh overtime contest this season looming, Di Giuseppe buried a rebound opportunity off Copp’s assist, securing the 2-1 victory and snapping the Wolverines’ four-game losing streak.

“He’s hungry,” Berenson said. “He thinks he can score more, and he got one tonight.”

Out of the center position and on a line with Copp and Di Giuseppe for the first time this season, Nieves looked as fast as advertised last season.

Nieves had the Wolverines’ best scoring opportunity of the first period on a breakaway chance midway through frame. On Michigan’s first power play, Nieves found Di Giuseppe, who fired a shot that would have found twine had it not been for an incredible save by Spartan goaltender Jake Hildebrand.

“I thought this was good for Boo to get his confidence on the wing,” Berenson said. “And Phillip was strong all night.”

After Berenson had broken up the once-dominant line, freshman forward JT Compher, junior Alex Guptill and senior Derek DeBlois were back together against the Spartans.

“It’s good to be back with them,” Compher said. “I thought we had some good chances. They both made great plays on goal, so it’s good to be back with them. I think anyone on our team can play together, but we definitely have some chemistry.”

With 8:24 remaining in the frame, Compher — who has been a nonfactor since stringing together a six-game point streak in November — drilled a loose puck in front of the crease for Michigan’s first goal. DeBlois tallied the assist.

And with 3:10 remaining in the third period, Compher, who was recovering from the flu this week, narrowly missed a second goal in front of the net.

Meanwhile, the duo of junior forward Zach Hyman and senior Luke Moffatt added seven of the Wolverines’ 36 shots. Hyman, who hadn’t recorded a point since Dec. 2 against Ohio State, nearly scored twice.

“They had a good game,” Berenson said. “I thought Zach was terrific tonight. You can see they’re working hard. They’re getting chances, and they’re getting pucks to the net.”

Copp, who scored eight points — including six goals and two assists — in his last seven games, did not score Thursday. But this time, he didn’t need to.

For Michigan, that’s a good thing. Because when this team is at its best, it doesn’t need to rely on only its leading scorer.