Sophomore forward Kevin Lynch entered Yost Ice Arena for a weekend series against Western Michigan riding the worst streak of any skater on the No. 11 Michigan hockey team — an 18-game pointless streak spanning nearly three months.
Lynch wasn’t just snake-bit — the monkey on his back had evolved well beyond its infancy stage.
But midway through the first period of the Wolverines’ 6-3 victory against the Broncos on Friday, Lynch found a rebound off to the side of Bronco goaltender Jerry Kuhn and shoveled it into the net. Streak snapped.
For the Grosse Pointe, Mich. native, it was a sigh of relief months in the making.
“A little while? It’s been a long time,” Lynch said with a laugh after the game. “It felt good to give something to the team. I thought I’d been playing well, but it hasn’t been going in for me.
“It was a really good feeling to get the monkey off my back.”
The goal — Lynch’s seventh of the season — brought confidence. To ensure that the streak was gone, Lynch knocked in his second goal at the 11:15 mark of the third period.
“We’ve explained to him, it’s not about scoring, it’s about playing well and playing hard and playing good defense,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said Friday. “When you’re not scoring, you’d better not get scored against. For the most part Lynch has kept himself in the lineup by working hard, and tonight he was rewarded.”
Lynch was on a tear, and he left Broncos strewn in his wake. The big-bodied forward was the sheriff on the ice at Yost, punishing Western Michigan and letting his physicality match the new offensive outpouring.
“I just think (Lynch) is playing with a little more grit,” Berenson said. “Sometimes when you play more physical, good things happen. When he quits hitting, he’ll probably quit scoring.”
The next night, Lynch proved that Friday was no fluke.
In Saturday’s 5-4 barnburner, Lynch assisted on sophomore forward David Wohlberg’s power-play goal in the first period — the team’s first man-advantage goal since a Jan. 22 matchup against Alaska. In the following period, Lynch scored the Wolverines’ biggest goal of the first 59 minutes of the game — overshadowed only by senior forward Carl Hagelin’s late-game heroics.
Just over two minutes into the second frame, with Hagelin in the penalty box for high-sticking, Lynch showcased his scoring finesse on a short-handed attack. After picking up a loose puck in his own end, Lynch dashed the length of the ice on a two-on-two with Wohlberg. With Wohlberg covered and two men converging on him, Lynch split the defensemen with a nifty toe-drag and wristed a shot past Kuhn to tie the game at three goals each.
“The short-handed goal was huge — that got us back in the game,” Berenson said on Saturday. “Great play by Lynch. We’ve had those go against us, as you saw, and it was good to get that one back.”
This wasn’t the same Lynch whose inability to produce on the offensive end had befuddled both he and the coaching staff for months.
Before last weekend’s matchup against Ohio State, Berenson shifted Lynch over from right wing to center, his natural position. The change didn’t pay dividends against the Buckeyes, but it may have sparked Lynch against the Broncos.
With time winding down in the third period on Saturday, Lynch had four points on the weekend, but the Wolverines still trailed, 4-3. Berenson called a timeout with 90 seconds remaining to set up a final stab at sending the game into overtime.
When Michigan took the ice coming out of the timeout, senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick was on the bench and Berenson sent Lynch as the extra attacker. After three months of disappointment, he’d earned the trust of his coach.
A minute later, Lynch was skating alongside Hagelin when the Swede deadlocked the game with 40 seconds remaining.
The barn was ablaze, and nobody more so than Kevin Lynch — the weekend’s most unlikely hero.