During Friday night’s 5-4 loss to Alaska at Yost Ice Arena, the Michigan hockey team scored quite possibly its ugliest goal of the season.
Because garbage goals have eluded the Wolverines this season, nobody was going to complain that it didn’t come on a pretty laser from freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba at the blue line or a sweet back-door finish by another Wolverine. But good teams find ways to score, even if they aren’t the most visually appealing.
The gritty goal happened like this: With the Wolverines trailing 4-2 to the Nanooks, sophomore forward Alex Guptill skated around the Alaska net with the puck. His shot attempt deflected off the goaltender’s pads to Derek DeBlois. The junior forward had his shot turned away as well, leaving a juicy rebound right to the stick of Trouba, who watched as the puck ricocheted into the net.
A highlight-reel goal? No. But they all count the same.
Part of the reason that Michigan hasn’t willed itself to many similar goals this season is its sometimes-glaring lack of a true net presence.
Last season, Guptill played this role to a considerable amount of acclaim, redirecting point shots into the back of the net or screening the goalie to allow for a good look from a teammate.
After a particularly opportune weekend in front of the net against Notre Dame last year, Michigan coach Red Berenson likened Guptill to one of the NHL’s all-time greats at wreaking havoc in front of the goalie — the soon-to-be-retired Tomas Holmstrom of the Detroit Red Wings.
“You see Holmstrom do it every night,” Berenson said at the time. “Obviously, (Guptill’s) got a nose for the net. Those were big goals he scored.”
They certainly were, and Michigan misses them in the worst way.
Guptill can’t quite pinpoint exactly what has changed, though he did say that defenseman Greg Pateryn, who graduated last season, was good at getting the puck through the opponent’s defense. At this point last year, Guptill had 12 goals. This year, he has just five.
“I’m not going to point the finger at anyone,” Guptill said. “That’s my fault. I’ve got to get in front more and battle harder to get there. The power play’s been a big issue, and we need to sort that out in the weeks coming forward.”
Berenson said that he hoped in the preseason that Guptill, who has yet to score a power-play goal, would continue to provide the net-front presence he demonstrated last year and that other new scorers around the crease would emerge. But that hasn’t been the case.
“The one thing Guptill had going for him was a pretty good track record from last year,” Berenson said. “And he was good in front of the net — he’d tip in goals, he’d find loose pucks, rebounds and bury them. And this year, that’s not happening.”
With the power play converting at an abysmal 12.9-percent clip, it’s not fair to believe that all of the unit’s struggles would dissolve if Guptill — or another scorer — began tallying those dirty goals. But it would make a sizeable dent, and could spark an offense that’s looked lethargic for most of this season.