- James Coller/Daily
By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 1, 2015
Prior to the Michigan hockey team capturing its 16th Great Lakes Invitational championship, doubt surrounded the team. The Wolverines had an up-and-down start to their season, failing to win consistently on the road, leaving the team still searching for another résumé-boosting win.
The fans’ doubt likely stemmed from Michigan missing four of its best players at the GLI. Freshman forward Dylan Larkin, freshman defenseman Zach Werenski and sophomore forwards JT Compher and Tyler Motte all missed the GLI to participate in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championships held in Montreal and Toronto.
Here is the Daily’s breakdown of how the Michigan players have performed through the United States’ four preliminary round games.
Dylan Larkin: Most of the talk involving the United States heading into the WJC centered around Boston University’s Jack Eichel, projected as one of the first two picks in this year’s NHL Draft. But Larkin has stolen the show for the Americans. His seven points — five goals and two assists — lead the team, with the Ontario Hockey League’s Sonny Milano trailing him by three points.
Larkin has found instant chemistry with Minnesota’s Hudson Fasching, who, along with Larkin, leads the United Sttates with a plus-seven rating. Larkin was perhaps the Americans’ brightest spot during their 5-3 loss to Canada on New Years Eve.
Down 3-1 with 2:34 left in the third period, Fasching muscled his way through the neutral zone and slid the puck to Larkin, who used his speed to race to the net and hit twine. Minutes later, Canada extended its lead to two with an empty-net goal, but Larkin took the puck through the zone, and rifled it to the high-glove side to cut Canada’s lead to one.
Larkin was also named the United States Player of the Game after he scored twice and assisted another in a 6-0 win over Germany.
Zach Werenski: A couple of weeks ago, Werenski told the Daily he wasn’t sure he would make the United States roster. Just 17 years old, he knew he’d have another crack at this team again. But the shifty, offensive-minded defenseman made the roster and has had an up-and-down tournament, registering one assist through four games.
Werenski has played mostly alongside the OHL’s Anthony DeAngelo and, at times, Boston College’s Noah Hanafin. Werenski boasts a plus-two rating after the preliminary round.
Werenski has seen time on the power play at the point position, but most of his shots haven’t gotten through to the netminder.
Werenski’s largest blemish came against Canada when Connor McDavid, the projected top pick of the 2015 NHL Draft, blew by Werenski and set up Curtis Lazar — who is currently playing on loan from the Ottawa Senators — for a goal.
Tyler Motte: Motte has had a quieter tournament than expected, tallying only one assist.
Motte is playing on the United States’ top line alongside Eichel and Boston College’s Alex Tuch. Motte has had his share of opportunities to score, using his grittiness to outhustle defensemen, but they haven’t materialized into goals yet. Part of that may stem from his line facing top lines from all of the team’s opponents.
Getting Motte going could be the spark the United States needs moving into the elimination rounds.
JT Compher: Like Motte, Compher hasn’t filled the stat sheet as much as expected, failing to register a point through four games. However, he’s had a strong tournament thus far in other ways.
Compher and Yale’s John Hayden have found instant chemistry and each player has had multiple shots on goal thanks to the other.
Compher and Hayden have both played instrumental roles on the penalty kill, highlighted by their performance against Canada.
The Michigan sophomore had a few of quality chances against Germany, but Germany netminder Ilya Sharipov stymied Compher every time.
“If we didn’t have our goalie, it would have been like 15-0 or something,” Germany captain Dominik Kahun told the Associated Press.
It’s safe to say Compher would’ve notched one of those goals.