A very happy birthday for Guptill, a very talented freshman

Adam Glanzman/Daily
Freshman forward Alex Guptill finished the regular season as the Michigan hockey team’s leading scorer, collecting a total of 15 goals and 31 points. Buy this photo

By Matt Slovin, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 5, 2012

Alex Guptill certainly didn’t have a case of the Mondays this week. The freshman forward entered his third decade of life and was named to the CCHA All-Rookie team.

Pretty good birthday, eh?

“Definitely,” Guptill said. “Turning 20 and then you hear that news — it’s special. … I’m really happy to be able to share it with myself, my family and my teammates.”

When Michigan coach Red Berenson was informed of Guptill’s accomplishment, neither shock nor glee were evident on his face. His standout freshman earned the honor by racking up 16 goals — tied for the most among NCAA first-year skaters — en route to 31 points.

The rookie’s campaign was enough to draw praise from the league’s coaches, but the teammates that flank Guptill are the ones that speak highest of him. Junior linemate Chris Brown doesn’t simply think his centerman is one of the best in the conference.

“I think he’s one of the most dominant freshmen in college hockey,” Brown said.

The scoring prowess isn’t something Berenson expected of Guptill coming in. Berenson didn’t see a future decorated goal scorer when he saw Guptill play for the Waterloo Black Hawks of the United States Hockey League last year. Instead, he saw an extremely raw skater who had to develop if he wanted to see the ice his freshman season. Berenson had a laundry list of Guptill’s shortcomings after his first times seeing him play.

“He needed to ramp up his defensive awareness and his work ethic, shift after shift, and even puck management,” Berenson said. “There were a lot of things that he had to get better at.”

Guptill struggled to find his hockey identity in the USHL. Injured and without a serious role on the team, he turned to Michigan and Berenson to fine-tune his game. It didn’t take long.

“When he got here, I was impressed,” Berenson said. “He was ahead of where he was (in 2010). I thought his game was better — his skating (and) his puck touches.”

But Berenson wasn’t the only one who recognized the potential in Guptill. Brown sees a little bit of senior linemate David Wohlberg, who was named to the All-Rookie team during his freshman campaign, in Guptill.

“He’s got a scoring touch I haven’t seen in a long time — probably since Wohlberg won (the award),” Brown said.

But the always-humble Wohlberg thinks bigger things await the protégé. Wohlberg has been riddled with injuries throughout his Michigan career, only to finally find his stride this season. Guptill, he thinks, brings more to the table, at least at that young age.

“I think people expect more of him and he’s given more,” Wohlberg said. “So in that aspect, he’s (more) well-rounded than I was at that time.”

Ever since the trip to Alaska, when Michigan began to turn its season around, Guptill and Wohlberg have been pacing the Wolverines on their top line along with junior forward Chris Brown. Before Berenson made that switch, Wohlberg said, Guptill was more of a “grinder” while on the fourth line.

“He’s really just opening his eyes and learning from everyone else around him, ” Wohlberg said. “He’s become a really good player.”

Since Wohlberg was also a highly touted freshman, he knows firsthand how special it is to be recognized at such an early stage. And though expectations for Guptill will most assuredly be higher next year, this honor is the trademark of the beginnings of a successful college career.

“It’s awesome,” Wohlberg said of the recognition. “It’s the culmination of a pretty good year, and then you have a chance to win a national title after that and help your team that way. I know (Guptill’s) looking forward to that.”

Not bad for a Monday.

NOTE: With Bowling Green’s upset victory over Northern Michigan last weekend, Notre Dame becomes Michigan’s quarterfinal opponent. The Fighting Irish will play in Ann Arbor on Friday and Saturday, with a decisive game three on Sunday if necessary. Saturday’s contest will be televised on Comcast.