EAST LANSING — Questions hung in the air when the news came that freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe would miss Saturday’s game against No. 14 Michigan State.
It was unclear where the offensive drive would come from, since Di Giuseppe has proven himself as one of the Michigan hockey team’ s most consistent scorers.
But this weekend, it was a different freshman — forward Alex Guptill — who stole the show. Guptill ensured that Di Giuseppe wasn’t missed at all. Over the course of the series, Guptill racked up three points and now leads Michigan in goals scored (nine).
“(Guptill) is doing the little things right,” said senior defenseman Greg Pateryn. “That’s what it comes down to. Less is more in college hockey, and he’s doing the simple things.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson has been preaching about the importance of Hockey 101 for months: not getting too fancy with the puck and making the most of the opportunities given to you.
This series, it became clear that Guptill has been paying attention.
Going into Saturday night’s shootout loss, senior forward David Wohlberg stressed the importance of scoring the first goal to establish momentum in Michigan’s favor. Though Guptill didn’t score on Saturday, he set up his teammates and gave the Wolverines (5-6-2-1 CCHA, 9-8-2 overall) the all-important first lead.
Six minutes into the first stanza, Michigan State (6-5-0, 10-6-1) was working the puck around its zone in an attempt to clear it. Guptill stole the puck from the Spartans and dished it to junior forward Chris Brown, who took the shot and scored on his own rebound off of Spartan netminder Drew Palmisano.
Guptill’s second assist of the night came midway through the third period when he took the puck from the blue line to the net. Palmisano blocked the shot, but Wohlberg capitalized on the rebound.
“I thought (Guptill) was opportunistic,” Berenson said. “When he gets the puck, he’s dangerous. He’s young and he’s playing against the other team’s top lines too, but he’s holding his own.”
Guptill has moved up to the first line with Wohlberg and Brown, and the unit has not disappointed — the trio amassed a total of 10 points over the weekend.
Whereas Guptill has been pretty consistent throughout the season, Brown and Wohlberg have not.
“I think (Guptill) complements (Brown and Wohlberg),” Berenson said. “(He) has a knack for getting open, getting into right spots and making good plays.”
Guptill is one of Michigan’s biggest players at 6-foot-3 and is playing on the Wolverines’ biggest line. It’s easy for him to use his size to maneuver the puck down the ice and out-physical the opponent.
But it’s still his knack for maintaining possession of the puck that allows Guptill to capitalize offensively.
That was the case Friday night in Michigan’s 4-3 win, when Guptill notched his ninth goal of the season to become Michigan’s leading scorer. He eased his way from around the back of the net to the crease, where his backhand shot whizzed past Michigan State goaltender Will Yanakeff.
After registering his first goal of the season against Bentley on Oct. 7, Guptill face-planted on the ice following an overzealous celebration. This weekend, though, he kept his skates firmly on the ground.
Considering how much Guptill had to rejoice throughout the weekend, it’s probably best that he’s learned how to keep his balance.