Whether it is junior T.J. Hensick, senior captain Andrew Ebbett or freshmen Jack Johnson and Andrew Cogliano, the Michigan hockey team has plenty of stars to rely on to get points every game.
But it is the role players who will ultimately make the difference between a good season and a great season.
And in recent weeks, the Wolverines have found one of their role players. Freshman forward Danny Fardig has quietly turned from ignored walk-on into the hustle, do-anything type of player that every great team needs.
In the beginning of the season, Fardig served as a fourth-line center and wing. With all the penalties that Michigan took the first few weeks of the season, he saw little ice time.
Recently, the Michigan coaching staff has been using Fardig as one of the team’s primary penalty killers. Nowadays, the freshman is called upon to block shots on goal and frustrate the opposition.
Settling into a set role has resulted in Fardig having a bigger impact every week. On Friday night, he even chipped in some offense.
With the game scoreless four minutes into the first period, Fardig handled the puck on the right wing. He dumped it into the Michigan offensive zone, and continued to skate near the play. By following the puck along the boards, Fardig put himself into position to collect a stray pass from an Alaska-Fairbanks defenseman. He then flicked the puck toward the goal, where it hit off Nanooks forward Kyle Greentree’s skate and into the back of the net.
The goal exemplifies the type of all-out effort that Fardig puts into every second he skates on the ice.
“He goes out there every shift, and he works hard,” Ebbett said. “He gets the job done and is kind of an unsung hero for us.”
The large freshman class has also played a role in Fardig’s lack of notoriety. Last season, the Ann Arbor native was a part of the United States National Team Development Program along with classmates Johnson, Mark Mitera and Zac MacVoy. Fardig played a key role on the penalty kill, but again was overshadowed by star players like Johnson and Minnesota freshman Phil Kessel.
Because he was not as well known coming out of the development program as many of his teammates, he needed to walk-on to the hockey team. But his non-scholarship status has not affected his ability to increase his playing time.
“He has impressed everybody on the coaching staff with his work ethic and his defensive awareness,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “He’s a coachable kid that is willing (to do anything).”
Playing with elite players before college hockey has allowed Fardig to maintain a good level of confidence throughout the season.
“I knew I could compete with guys like (Jack Johnson) coming in,” Fardig said. “He can beat me one-on-one any day, but I knew if I just went out and battled every day that I could play for this team.”
His defensive presence and willingness to battle came to the forefront during the Wolverines’ game against Colorado College in the Great Lakes Invitational. With Johnson and Mitera participating in the World Junior Hockey Championships, and junior defenseman David Rohlfs serving a one-game suspension for a fighting penalty in the previous game, it left Michigan with a serious depletion of defensemen. To compensate, Fardig moved from his natural forward position to defense for the game.
“He’ll make the right play defensively,” Berenson said. “He doesn’t make a lot of high-risk type of plays. I felt we could rely on him doing the right thing defensively, and he sees himself as a good defensive player.”