Why has the No. 6 Michigan hockey team won seven of its past eight games? Part of the answer lies in one of the Wolverines’ biggest question marks headed into this season.
Junior forward David Wohlberg has eight points in Michigan’s past eight games and is second on the team with 11 goals.
But after struggling with a nagging back injury all last season, health was a concern as October dawned and the puck dropped inside Yost Ice Arena. Without a clear-cut diagnosis on what was ailing Wohlberg, it was unknown whether the injury would fester into this season.
“If you talk to the doctors that have talked to him and have looked at the X-rays and so on, they can’t tell you exactly,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after practice Tuesday. “A back is like a moving target. This isn’t defined. It’s not ‘this’ and when ‘this’ gets better, the back will feel better.”
A hampered Wohlberg mustered 10 goals and 27 points his sophomore season, a step backward after a surprising 15 goal, 30-point freshman campaign.
In his first season with the Wolverines, the South Lyon, Mich. native came in as a gritty forward who was good with the puck. He entered the spring as CCHA Rookie of the Year.
“I thought I was just going to try and play, get in the lineup, help the team any way I could,” Wohlberg said. “I started off on the fourth line, just fighting for a spot every night. Puck luck started happening — going my way — and I slowly moved up.”
But then the back troubles started. Though Wohlberg missed just one game last year, he frequently sat out of practice early in the week. Berenson said he “never really got going.” Wohlberg called it a “disappointment.” However there were still some flashes of his goal-scoring ability.
In Michigan’s double-overtime loss to Miami to end the season, Wohlberg scored one of the Wolverines’ two goals, had a couple breakaways and launched four shots on net — the most on the team.
That momentum continued into this campaign. Wohlberg, who hasn’t had any trouble with his back this season, had five goals in Michigan’s first seven games. But after a roller coaster career through two years, the ride didn’t stop in his third season. It hit a down slope. Wohlberg registered just two points in the next 10 games.
“He got off to such a good start, and I think he thought everything was going to keep going that way,” Berenson said. “Well it doesn’t keep going that way. And sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re good. But I think Wally got into some, maybe taking it for granted or just expecting things to go well.”
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Wohlberg is big, but not overly intimidating. He’s reserved when talking to the media. But according to Berenson, despite his good-natured manner off the ice, it’s Wohlberg’s grit that defines him on the ice.
In the past eight games, he’s found the scoring touch again. Last Saturday against Ferris State, with Michigan shorthanded, Wohlberg went after a loose puck at center ice. He pushed away a Bulldog defenseman, who arrived at the same time, away and fed it to senior forward Scooter Vaughan, who was breaking into the zone. Vaughan did the rest to put the Wolverines up 4-0.
That hustle play came in between Wohlberg’s two goals that night. His three points in the game tied his career high.
“Right now you’re seeing what you get,” Berenson said. “An honest player, working hard and his game’s starting to come together. I thought that was his best weekend of the year.”
So why has Michigan won seven of its past eight games? Look to plays like Wohlberg’s assist for the answer.