There has been no shortage of offensive firepower so far this year, and there’s little question that the forwards are the Michigan hockey team’s deepest unit.
The Wolverines have scored 14 times in just four games, including a seven-goal outburst to spoil homecoming at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Last year, Andrew Copp emerged as a team leader in the last half of the season, and he was awarded with an alternate captain patch this year. The sophomore center hasn’t disappointed, boasting two goals and four assists on the young season. But he’s far from Michigan’s only offensive weapon.
After leading the team in points (36) and goals (16) last year, junior Alex Guptill is off to a fine start after missing the season-opener due to a suspension. He’s already found twine once and contributed with two assists. Though Guptill was relegated to the fourth line in his first game back, he’s since been promoted back to the first line with Copp and senior Derek BeBlois.
But the bulk of Michigan’s firepower has come from linemates Luke Moffatt and Tyler Motte, who lead the team with three goals apiece. A senior, Moffatt set a career-high with two power-play goals in the season opener.
The Wolverines struggled to score in their first game against New Hampshire last weekend, and Berenson shuffled the lines accordingly. In the series finale, the first line was comprised entirely of freshmen: Motte, JT Compher and Evan Allen. Meanwhile, junior Phil Di Guiseppe joined Copp and DeBlois on the second line. Michigan coach Red Berenson will likely keep toying with pairings to find the optimal combination, but the Wolverines shouldn’t be too worried about offensive droughts this season, especially with Michigan averaging almost 30 shots a game.
Michigan’s extreme youth is highlighted on its defense — where each pairing features a veteran and a freshman — but has largely remained consistent thus far. Senior Mac Bennett and freshman Mike Downing hold the top pairing, followed by junior Brennan Serville and Nolan De Jong on the second pairing and senior Kevin Clare and Kevin Lohan on the third.
After losing Jacob Trouba and Jon Merrill to professional programs, defense was the Wolverines’ biggest question heading into this season. So far, it has exceeded expectations, surrendering an average of just two goals a game — perfectly reasonable considering the depth Michigan has on attack.
Of course, the defense has been bailed out by the netminder time and again this season and can’t always expect goaltending heroics. But it has generally held its own despite already facing three ranked opponents and spending the last two weeks playing in tough road environments.
The Wolverines’ youth was especially tested at the Whittemore Center Arena in New Hampshire, where the ice is an extra 15 feet wider to meet Olympic regulations. There, Michigan surrendered 35 shots in a series-opening tie — including several breakaways — but rebounded to allow just 24 shots the following night.
As the team captain, Bennett is the unquestionable defensive leader, but the freshman have been more than serviceable as well. Nowhere has the defense been more impressive than on the penalty kill. Opponents have had 23 power-play opportunities but scored just twice, and the defense has allowed just over one shot on average when down a man.
The defense will likely endure growing pains, but it has the makings of a adequate-to-solid unit that could impress late in the season.
After a revolving door of netminders that lasted most of last year, the Wolverines finally found their man of the future in Steve Racine. But less than three games into this season, the sophomore was benched with a groin injury.
Racine is week-to-week and will miss both games this weekend, but Berenson anticipates that he’ll regain the starting spot when he returns. In a little more than eight periods of action, he posted a 2.22 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage, numbers that impress even more when considering the young and inexperienced defense.
Fortunately for Michigan, Racine’s backup has been just as impressive. Freshman Zach Nagelvoort made 15 saves in the third period and overtime to preserve a tie when he was abruptly forced into action after the sophomore’s in-game injury. At 6-foot-2 and 180 lbs., he’s the bigger goaltender, and boasts a 1.41 goals-against average and .949 save percentage entering this weekend’s games.
The consistency of the two goaltenders — albeit in a very, very small sample size — has put Berenson into an enviable dilemma. If Nagelvoort continues to impress, the coach says he’d consider having the two netminders split time as starters. Even if he doesn’t, Berenson knows he has a very capable backup.