Last season, after being eliminated by Cornell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan hockey team finished the year with a 24-13-5 record. Seven players on the roster had appeared in all 41 games.
Michigan is 8-16-2 this season, and there are just four players who have appeared in all 26 games — senior defenseman Lee Moffie, senior forward Kevin Lynch, sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe and freshman forward Boo Nieves.
Despite Michigan’s inconsistencies on the year — goalie problems, poor defense and a lack of offensive firepower — Moffie, Lynch, Di Giuseppe and Nieves have proven to be consistent enough to find themselves in the Wolverines’ lineup night in and night out.
But Michigan coach Red Berenson said that just because a player is in the lineup doesn’t necessarily mean he has contributed consistently. Whether because of an attitude problem or just a player performing poorly the previous weekend, Berenson hasn’t hesitated to scratch a player who had been a regular starter. Berenson has also continually rotated the lines in an effort to find more production from his forwards during offensive droughts.
“I think whenever you’re losing you’re going to switch things up,” Moffie said. “I think it keeps everything competitive, so I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”
Aside from a pair of one-game suspensions served to freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba and senior forward A.J. Treais for misconduct penalties, injuries — particularly to the defensemen — have been a constant thorn in the Wolverines’ side. All six starting defensemen have played together just a handful of times this season, but Moffie said that injuries shouldn’t affect the way the defensemen play as a whole.
“We’re a pretty close ‘D’ corps, and the communication is all the same, so you can throw any of us with anyone and they would be fine,” he said. “We’ve all played together at some point. I don’t think (different lines) are that big of a deal, but obviously it would be nice to get some consistency back.”
ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER DAY: Michigan has a history of grooming and developing hockey players. Traditionally, the majority of recruits that come play for the Wolverines stay until they graduate, which is why Berenson expects players to improve every year.
“There’s a lot of different ways to measure these players, and that’s the bottom line,” he said. “They can ask themselves, ‘Are you having a better year than you had last year?’ ”
When talking about last year’s team, Berenson referenced the play of then-seniors Luke Glendening, Greg Pateryn and Shawn Hunwick, who all posted career highs in their final season for Michigan.
But the veterans this year haven’t had the same kind of success. Treais, who had eight goals in the first four weeks of the season to lead the NCAA, has cooled off to the extent that he’s tallied just three points in the past month.
Whereas production came from the upperclassmen a year ago, the freshmen have found themselves contributing more and more this season. Three freshmen — Trouba, Nieves and forward Andrew Copp — sit in the top 10 for total points. But it’s more than just point production Berenson is looking for — he expects his veteran players to provide the team other intangibles as well.
“For forwards, sometimes it’s goals and assists, sometimes it’s plus-minus, sometimes it’s your role,” Berenson said. “Kevin Lynch is a senior forward. Now he might not have scored as many goals yet as he had last year, but he’s definitely adding more physicality and better defensive physical presence, more leadership.”
BENNETT REPORT: Junior defenseman Mac Bennett, who suffered an apparent knee injury during Michigan’s 5-1 loss to Bowling Green on Jan. 8, now has a timetable for a return.
Berenson said that Bennett will likely start skating on his own this week, and “if he’s practicing with the team next week, he’ll be playing next weekend.”
The Narragansett, R.I. native had contributed four goals and nine assists before his injury, and also played a pivotal role to an already depleted defensive corps. In the same game that Bennett went down, junior defenseman Jon Merrill returned from a vertebrae injury that had sidelined him the entire season.
Though Berenson has said that the defensive woes are just as much a result of the forwards’ defensive-zone coverage than the actual play of the defenseman, Bennett’s presence on the blue line can only have a positive effect as the team winds down the regular season.