Last season, the top-seeded Michigan hockey team was upset by Air Force in the first round of the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn. Falcon goaltender Andrew Volkening stopped all 43 shots en route to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win.

So you’re probably asking yourself, “What does that have to do with this year’s Wolverines?” — a team desperately trying to make the Tournament for the 20th-straight year?

Well, to be honest, it has everything to do with this season’s team and a certain player’s confidence.

You see, at the end of last season, a certain Wolverine finished as a top-10 Hobey Baker Finalist and grabbed AHCA/Reebok Division I Ice Hockey All-American First-Team honors. Not to mention, he ended the year with a team-high 24 goals, and was second in scoring.

Only one year later, that particular Wolverine’s time on the ice has been a far cry from the highlight reel performances he delivered for the Michigan faithful during the 2008- 2009 season.

By now, you’ve probably guessed I’m referring to junior center Louie Caporusso, a player whose game still hasn’t returned from Bridgeport. Sure, the Woodbridge, Ont. native has tallied six goals and 13 assists through 26 games, good for third on the team in scoring so far. But against the upper echelon of CCHA teams — Miami, Michigan State, Ferris State and Lake Superior State — Caporusso has registered just five points in eight games and has, frankly, been a ghost on the ice all season.

It took him five games to tally his first point, and at times, Caporusso has looked more like he’s on a morning skate than in the thick of a conference race.

Maybe I’m being too hard on a player who showed me so much last year, and this year, has shown me close to nothing.

We’re all still wondering; When is last year’s Louie Caporusso going to crawl out of the woodwork, throw this team on his shoulders and catapult it into the NCAA Tournament?

But looking closer into Caporusso’s woes this year, there may be a few reasons for the drought.

Throughout the season, Michigan coach Red Berenson has often switched the lines on a week-to-week basis, so the lack of consistency with Caporusso’s linemates may have affected his offensive production.

Or it could be the departure of former Wolverine Aaron Palushaj, for the American Hockey League after last season. Palushaj assisted on a third of Caporusso’s goals and played considerable time with him on the power play. But Caporusso has, on multiple occasions, played down the effect of Palushaj’s departure on his game. It could simply be taking fewer shots — he is fourth on the team in shots, taking just 55 through 26 games or basically two shots a game.

And for Caporusso, who’s on the power play and always skates on one of the top two lines, that’s unacceptable. Maybe he has changed his mindset, for whatever reason, to a pass-first-shoot-second mentality. Any number of different scenarios could be attributed to Caporusso’s offensive demise. I, or anyone else for that matter, haven’t been able to pinpoint one specific area definitively.

While a player’s worth can surely be measured by more than statistics alone — leadership in the locker room, being a physical presence on the ice, finding a niche as a role player — Caporusso was a dominant force in college hockey last year and a prolific goal scorer.

But at the end of the day, Caporusso needs to put goals in the back of the net and resurrect his sniper mentality if the Wolverines are going to successfully make a late-season push in the CCHA.

For now, the Louie of old has long since vanished, and I don’t know when the resurrection is going to take place.

All I can tell you is the No. 29 that lost to the Falcons in last year’s first round still hasn’t returned to Ann Arbor.

His flight was probably just delayed.

— Burns can be reached at burnmark@umich.edu.

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