You couldn’t talk to anybody involved with the Michigan hockey program without hearing it: “We’ve got to do better with goals against.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson said it every time he met with reporters. Players spewed the mantra like politicians with talking points. Defense was clearly the Wolverines’ top priority.
This month, Michigan has played like a defensive juggernaut, allowing just two goals per game.
Surprisingly, the biggest benefit of improved defense might actually be diverse offensive production. And much of the credit for the Wolverines’ varied goal scoring goes right back to Michigan’s blueliners.
As if to let off some steam from their efforts in the defensive zone, senior captain Matt Hunwick and sophomore Jack Johnson spent some time this weekend contributing on the offensive end.
On Friday night, Johnson recorded his first career hat trick – including two shorthanded tallies. On Saturday, he used his blistering slapshot to light the lamp twice more. All told, Johnson had eight points in the two games against Ferris State.
“I just kept firing,” Johnson said after Saturday’s game. “The past 10 games or so, they were not going in for me, but I had the mentality to keep shooting, and eventually one of them is going to go in.”
Johnson’s goals came primarily from the point, but Hunwick jumped up on the attack for his marker.
Hunwick, trailing the offensive rush, received a backhand pass from sophomore Brandon Naurato. With Ferris State goalie Mitch O’Keefe leaning the wrong way, Hunwick buried the puck, giving Michigan its first goal on Saturday.
“(The forwards) are always talking about helping the ‘D’ out as far as coming back,” Naurato said. “If (defensemen) can jump up in the play and then still get back, that’s even better. It helps us a lot.”
Goals from defensemen had been scarce up to this point in the season, with just 12 of the team’s 107 goals tallied by the blueliners.
Equally rare, at times, were goals from the third and fourth lines. But those have come more regularly in the past two weekends, too.
Even after switching from the top line to the third, sophomore Travis Turnbull has kept up his solid offensive output. The Chesterfield, Mo., native deposited a goal in each game this weekend. He now has points in four straight games.
Naurato, also a third liner, had three assists on the weekend, and his point streak stands at four games, too.
“I just love playing with Turnbull and (sophomore Tim) Miller,” Naurato said. “I think we’ve got pretty good chemistry going. Hopefully we can keep up as a unit every weekend.”
Saturday night, the goals weren’t coming from the usual suspects. Of Michigan’s top-six goal scorers going into the weekend, only sophomore Andrew Cogliano managed to beat O’Keefe.
Even for an offense as star-studded as Michigan’s, there’s a benefit in evenly distributed scoring.
“It helps out our team when guys like Naurato and Miller and guys like that can score,” said junior Kevin Porter, who is tied for the team lead in goals with 18. “It’s huge for our team; it gives us confidence.”
But as happy as Porter was with the offensive output, all he really wanted to talk about was allowing fewer goals against.