The next time the No. 7 Michigan hockey team gets a little rough with the other team, sophomore Tristin Llewellyn will probably be taking the lead.
The sophomore defenseman’s physicality has led to a resurgence in his play that isn’t shown on the stat sheet.
Llewellyn has tallied just one point this season, but he isn’t expected to score goals. Instead, opposing players feel his presence when they’re hit into the boards.
“I think he’s a strong defensive defenseman,” sophomore blue liner Chad Langlais said. “I think he’s got the body strength and body type to be a bruiser in this league.”
Llewellyn has improved with increased playing time this season, which stems from the injuries to senior defenseman Mark Mitera and junior defenseman Steve Kampfer. He plays a different style of hockey from Wolverines like Langlais and junior captain Chris Summers, who are better known for their speed and offensive skills.
One of the biggest differences from last season has been Llewellyn’s on-ice awareness. As a freshman, he would usually go for the big hit instead of staying back to defend the oncoming rush. This year he’s made smarter decisions, body-checking at more appropriate times and defending the puck more often.
“A year ago, he was in and out of the lineup,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But we saw glimpses that he could play well. I think it’s just a matter of consistency and playing within himself, taking fewer chances and being a lower-risk defenseman.”
At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, Llewellyn doesn’t have the typical burly physique of an enforcer. Though fighting isn’t allowed in college hockey, he gives the Wolverines confidence when a brawl breaks out deep in the defensive zone.
“When stuff starts getting rough, he has no problem getting out there, stirring it up a bit and sticking up for his teammates,” Summers said.
In the final minutes of last Saturday’s 6-1 win against Ohio State, Llewellyn received a 10-minute game misconduct penalty for roughing after the whistle.
After skating behind the net, sophomore Carl Hagelin was cross-checked by the Ohio State goaltender. After skating away, Hagelin confronted more Buckeyes. But before the sophomore could retaliate, Llewellyn defended him by throwing a few punches and drawing the misconduct.
Llewellyn leads the team in penalties, logging 30 minutes through eight games. But, even with the energy his play generates, Berenson said there are ways to reduce these occasions.
“Part of his game is playing physical, but the part we’ve got to get out of his game is keeping his stick down,” Berenson said. “If you can hit a guy clean, you don’t have to take a penalty.”
That’s something that Llewellyn will have to learn.
“That’s the way I love to play,” Llewellyn said. “That’s old-time hockey.”