By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 5, 2013
Midway through the second period of Saturday night’s game against Ferris State, freshman forward Andrew Copp skated to the left circle to take the faceoff against forward Travis Ouellette — who would later miss a 1-on-1 chance in overtime.
Copp won the faceoff, sent the puck back to his defenseman and circled around the opposing zone for a minute.
Nothing came from the possession. It wasn’t memorable, but it did do one thing: it kept the puck away from the Bulldogs.
And it explains one of the many facets of the Wolverines’ sweep against Ferris State last weekend.
“The more faceoffs we take in their zone, the more chances we have of getting the puck,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Really we’re playing in their zone. We need more puck time. We weren’t getting any puck possession time a month ago, and we’re getting more now.”
Michigan went 76-55 in faceoffs on the weekend, highlighted by a 40-25 record on Friday night in a 4-1 win.
The Wolverines’ faceoff percentage has never been well below average. But walking away with a losing record on the draw make winning games tougher when they can’t control the puck.
“It’s an important stat,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Sometimes it shows up on the score sheet, but more often than not it shows up in your team playing well.”
In 10 of its 13 victories, Michigan has won more faceoffs than its opponent. Although faceoffs aren’t always an indicator of who will win a contest, they do indicate who has the puck for the majority of the game.
Controlling possession is dependent on just a select few players on any team — just four skaters won 72 of Michigan’s 76 faceoff wins this weekend.
Senior forward A.J. Treais has been the Wolverines’ leader this season when taking draws, despite his losing record. No other teammate has eclipsed the 300-win mark this season. He holds a 331-344 record this year. Treais went 14-10 this weekend but was outdone by a younger teammate.
Copp, who moved to the center position for the first time at the start of the Ohio State series, won 25 draws for Michigan in the sweep over the Bulldogs.
But the real leader might be sophomore forward Travis Lynch, according to Berenson. Lynch’s 13-11 record over the weekend hasn’t been as indicative of his performance on the third and fourth lines this season, though. Lynch has the highest wining percentage among teammates with at least 25 attempts when taking the draw, holding a 256-197 record.
“Travis Lynch wins some really great draws on our penalty-killing faceoffs,” Berenson said. “When we get a penalty and you have to take that first faceoff in your own zone — that’s a huge faceoff. You win that draw and you get it out, and Travis has done that for the most part all year.”
And the pressure certainly rises when missing a man on the power play or even playing without a consistently healthy defense behind you.
“Red’s definitely on us for faceoffs,” said freshman forward Boo Nieves, who went 20-12 on faceoffs against Ferris State. “He always says, ‘You can’t lose them clean.’ But he’s really on us because faceoffs can either win or lose a game. It’s that split second.”
Yet before the split second, there’s more going on that helps determine who wins.
Whichever forward takes the faceoff will first take in surroundings before gliding to the circle. They’ll take in the height and build of the opponent, which hand they hold the stick in and whether they are on the power play.
But next time, watch the faceoff to see how low forwards like Nieves and Copp get to the ice. The home opponent always gets the last chance to set his stick down and position himself. So, Michigan should benefit from more than just the crowd when it takes on Northern Michigan this weekend in the CCHA playoffs.