Ten games is a difficult number to assess. It’s a big enough sample size to detect patterns and tendencies, but it’s not big enough to make concrete conclusions. It’s sort of in the awkward middle.
Too early to tell, but also too late to ignore. That’s why it is impossible to make any assumptions about the Michigan hockey team’s lines so far this season.
More than a quarter of the regular season is complete, but the Wolverines are still shuffling. For whatever reason, some guys simply just work better with other guys, and for Michigan coach Red Berenson, that takes some time to figure out.
“You have to go through some of this,” Berenson said. “It’s good to see who can play with who, especially with some new players. But we have to play well, we can’t just put lines together because they look pretty.”
Trying to figure out line chemistry on a team with eight freshmen is a big challenge and a big reason that players have been moving up and down the lineup. Conventional wisdom says the creativity in juggling lineups would be limited because it might not be wise to place multiple freshmen on the same line. But not for the Wolverines. Berenson said that he has started all-freshman lines in the past and wouldn’t be afraid to do it again this year.
“I think we have the type of kids on this team where if we had to, we could put a pretty good line together with all freshman,” Berenson said. “They are more than holding their own.”
While having dependable freshmen is a luxury few teams possess, senior leadership is a huge factor in Berenson trying to mix and match his younger players.
Take the first line, for instance. Senior wingers David Wohlberg and Luke Glendening have started every game on the first line, but the third Wolverine in that mix hasn’t been a constant.
Berenson has started two freshmen there — Zach Hyman and Travis Lynch — as well as junior Kevin Lynch. Glendening, in particular, has allowed Berenson to experiment with that third spot, getting younger players some valuable ice time with two of the best forwards on the team.
“No question, Luke is a good influence on whoever plays on that line,” Berenson said. “He’s not just the captain of that line, he’s the captain of our team.”
But there is a negative to the rearranging. It can be hard for a player to get into a rhythm when he isn’t familiar with the tendencies of the guys next to him, especially if those guys are new every other game.
It could be a an issue for some players, but for others, it’s just another day at the office. Junior forward Lindsay Sparks has been one of those players surrounded by a rotating cast of characters, through no fault of his own.
He had been playing a lot with junior forward Chris Brown before Brown went down with an upper-body injury, so last Saturday’s contest brought a whole new crew.
Sparks skated with two players he has never been paired with this season — junior Jeff Rohrkemper and sophomore Luke Moffatt, and Sparks didn’t seem to have an issue playing with new linemates. He finished with two assists on the night en route to a 5-2 victory over Western Michigan.
“Everyone has the same mindset and everyone knows what they are doing, so it is just adjusting to different players,” Sparks said. “But you get used to it.”
He would know. He currently leads the Wolverines in points this season.
Sparks said that lines will start to settle down around Christmas time, when Berenson gets a better feel for the chemistry of his squad.
Until then, he is going to mix and match until he finds the perfect combination. At least for another 10 games.
“You can feel like this is the right lineup for now, but after a while they can get stale,” Berenson said. “Then we have to change things to wake them up.”