Watching highlights from Saturday’s 8-2 blowout loss at No. 1 Minnesota is enough to make any Wolverine feel queasy – except for one.

Jonathan Duggan
Senior T.J. Hensick has made himself an early-season contender for the Hobey Baker Award by totaling 28 points so far this season. (ZACH MEISNER/Daily)

The clip begins with the Golden Gophers on the power play. Senior alternate captain T.J. Hensick then picks up a loose puck at the blue line. The forward swoops down the left wing, fends off a defender and quickly cuts right as he approaches the net. Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs takes the bait, allowing Hensick to slide the puck past Briggs’s left ankle for Michigan’s second score of the night.

If that short-handed beauty doesn’t quench your thirst for highlight-reel goals, just look at tapes from a night earlier in Madison. Hensick fired a one-timer on the power play that left Wisconsin netminder Brian Elliott stunned. Three days earlier it was Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg between the pipes. Lerg left Hensick just inches to work with, but a spinning Hensick chipped it in no sweat.

The Howell native is already garnering Hobey Baker Award buzz. Last week’s goals alone would be enough to jumpstart his campaign. Perhaps his biggest selling point lies in another offensive category: assists.

Hensick has always possessed the raw talent to string together dazzling goals. But this season, the center has extended his game by tapping into his playmaking abilities and setting up linemates, too. He leads No. 6 Michigan with 21 helpers this season.

“He’s been a little of an individualist in his career at times,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Because he’s so good, he could go through everybody with the puck. So he didn’t rely on passing the puck, even last year, as much as he is now. He’s really blossoming as a total player and as a total centerman.”

Picking up assists along with his goals in each game last weekend, Hensick moved up Michigan’s list of career assist leaders into a tie for seventh place (122).

He also leads the NCAA in career assists and points among active players. Nebraska-Omaha’s Scott Parse is far behind in second with 101 assists, and Hensick’s 181 points trump Parse’s 162.

Hensick’s mentality on the ice has changed since his “individualist” days of years past. These days, he’s looking for a teammate before he’s looking at the net.

“I usually get more thrill on setting guys up than scoring my own goals,” Hensick said. “For me the decision is usually pass, and then if the pass isn’t there I’ll shoot. Most guys think to shoot first and then pass. I seem to be backwards, but it seems to be working out.”

Hensick’s linemates have reaped dividends from his playmaking ability. His two wingers, junior Kevin Porter and senior David Rohlfs, are finding the back of the net with ease. Porter leads the team with 12 goals this season, and Rohlfs isn’t far behind with nine.

Porter and Rohlfs complement Hensick well, so if one of them goes to the net, chances are Hensick will find them.

“He makes plays that you don’t think are possible,” Rohlfs said. “Sometimes he makes the extra pass that you don’t expect, which throws off the goalie and the defensemen. It creates more chances, because the goalie thinks he’s going to shoot because he looks like he’s going to shoot. But then he makes an extra little quick-second pass, and then you just tap in an easy goal for our team.”

Because of his prolific talent, Hensick plays as a marked man. Each night, the opponents’ top players shadow him. But Hensick zips through them, moves past them and ignites the offensive fireworks just the same.

Scoring highlight-reel goals, racking up assist after assist and developing into a complete player make Hensick a consistent and indispensable asset for the Wolverines. He has a point in all but one game this season.

So grab your posterboard and start sketching those “T.J. for Hobey” signs. Hensick was a finalist for the award his sophomore year, and people are rallying for him to top that this season.

“Everybody’s hoping,” Rohlfs said. “It’d be nice.”

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