This Friday, when Michigan’s right wing Mike Brown lines up for a faceoff and looks to his left, he’ll probably smile. To his immediate left, at center, will be T.J. Hensick, who is tied for eighth in the nation in scoring with 36 points. And if Brown looks a little further to his left, he’ll see Jeff Tambellini lined up at left wing. Tambellini is tied for 18th in the nation in scoring with 34 points.
After 1-1 and 2-2 ties over the weekend against Michigan State, Michigan coach Red Berenson decided to shuffle his lines. And for the first time since the first four games of the season, Michigan’s two most lethal scorers — Hensick and Tambellini — will be on the same line.
“We’re going to take a look at them,” Berenson said. “We’re going to let them play together a little bit. And if they can get something going, then that’s good. If they catch fire, it would be a great thing for our team.”
One reason that Berenson decided to pair the two is because of Hensick’s recent struggles. In his last four games, Hensick has just one assist and zero goals.
“I was brought into this environment to score big goals in big games,” Hensick said. “I did that earlier in the season, but I didn’t do it this past weekend against Michigan State. I got eight shots Saturday night and not one of them found the back of the net. So you know I can’t fault my effort or the team effort, but, when it comes down to it, I have to bury my chances.”
Hensick led Michigan in scoring last season and has scored 35 points in his first 23 games this season. In response, many CCHA coaches have started making adjustments to deal with his scoring capability.
“The other teams have been trying to match him with their best defensemen or their best defensive forwards,” Berenson said.
But it will be harder to focus solely on Hensick if Tambellini, the conference’s leading shot-taker, is on the ice as well.
“(I put Tambellini with Hensick) to give Hensick a player who has really good offensive instincts,” Berenson said. “But whether or not they play the whole weekend together remains to be seen.”
If the pair doesn’t produce in Friday’s game at Nebraska-Omaha, then Berenson may separate the talented pair again.
“If they don’t score and the other team puts all their defensive attention on them, then we’ll break them up,” Berenson said. “Instead, we’ll have four lines that can score.”
In the first four games of the season, the two were paired with mixed results. Tambellini tallied a goal and five assists, and Hensick had a goal and four assists in that span. But Berenson has changed his lines frequently, and the two have been separated since.
The “X factor” on the line may be Brown. The sophomore will return to play this Friday after missing four games while getting over a bout with mononucleosis. Brown is not a big scorer, but Berenson recognizes his value.
“Brown gives the line some speed, some power and some toughness,” Berenson said. “He’s had a history of playing well with Hensick even though they may not have the puck between them. It seems like Hensick gets to see the puck more when Brown is playing with him.”
Hensick is looking forward to getting as many touches as possible in this weekend’s series.
“If Tambellini and I come to play, then we should be fine,” Hensick said. “We should carry the offense. We should be able to put the puck in the net.”