Notebook: Gritty Guptill catching fire

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By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published March 10, 2013

Having scored three goals or more in seven of its last eight games, it’s safe to say the Michigan hockey team’s offense — conspicuously absent for much of the season — has arrived.

The Wolverines are coming off a weekend in which the firepower was off the charts for four of the six periods of Michigan’s sweep of Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

The re-emergence can be partially explained by Alex Guptill’s return to form. He’s proven himself to be the offensive threat he was in his freshman campaign, when he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, and is currently riding a seven-game point streak.

Alongside freshman center Andrew Copp and junior right wing Derek DeBlois, the sophomore forward and his linemates tallied six points against the Wildcats, repeatedly punishing Northern Michigan netminder Jared Coreau.

“I think (Guptill’s) working harder,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I think he’s playing with a little more urgency. He’s got a lot of talent.”

Especially with Copp’s surprising development as a hard skater, opposing teams have been matching their top lines against Copp, DeBlois and Guptill. They’ve handled that challenge well, and Berenson said it’s increased their confidence as well as their chemistry.

A common complaint from Berenson in the season’s first half was that Guptill wasn’t playing hard enough without the puck. With the puck, Guptill has true playmaking ability, but he was left in Ann Arbor for the Nov. 30-Dec. 1 series at Ferris State because Berenson didn’t like his attitude or his work ethic.

That’s changed now, according to Copp.

“He’s been a lot grittier, I think,” Copp said. “He’s working hard in the offensive zone, as well as the defensive zone. He’s coming back hard, and it gives him more space going forward. He’s working well in the corners, he’s moving his feet, he’s beating guys one-on-one, which he wasn’t doing earlier in the year.

“I think it’s just a lot of grit and intensity that’s starting to pick up his game a lot.”

NO DAYS OFF: Berenson typically finalizes the lineup for any given game after the morning skate.

Saturday, he made his decisions after the team skated — for pre-game warm-ups.

Freshman forward Boo Nieves was experiencing flu-like symptoms, and the line chart for the series finale included four skaters on Nieves’ line. In addition to usual linemates sophomore Phil Di Giuseppe and senior Kevin Lynch, senior Lindsay Sparks was included as well.

Once the game began, however, Nieves looked like his usual self. On one play in particular, he drove to the net and drew a penalty. With the man advantage, junior defenseman Mac Bennett rifled home a power-play goal.

“(Nieves) was sick, but he really played well,” Berenson said. “For a kid that was sick, he’s a pretty good player.”

After the team had built up a comfortable enough lead, Berenson rested Nieves. Sophomore defenseman Brennan Serville was out sick.

PENALTY SHOT PONDERANCES: When was the last time the Wolverines were awarded two penalty shots in one game, as they were in Saturday night’s series finale?

Don’t ask Berenson.

When Michigan spokesman Bruce Madej asked him after the game, the coach had no answer.

Senior forward A.J. Treais, the team’s captain, didn’t convert on his attempt in the second period, but Copp finished his in the third, extending Michigan’s lead to 6-1.

With his tally, Copp became the first Wolverine to score a penalty-shot goal since Oct. 16, 2004, when forward Jason Ryznar did it against St. Lawrence.

Despite the drought since the last penalty-shot goal, Michigan is 3-0 in shootouts this season.