The Michigan hockey team is scoring fewer goals this year.
It’s missing five of the Wolverines’ top-seven scorers from last season.
Half of the team’s forwards have been on campus for just a few months.
Yet the offense is more dangerous this year – and it’s because No. 3 Michigan has more depth.
Last season, more than 75 percent of the Wolverines’ goals came from the first two offensive lines and the first defensive line. Now, scores are spread out. The first and third line have seven goals, while the second has six.
With nearly everyone playing, depth has been crucial with a four-line offensive rotation. It’s tiring for an opponent’s defense to face lines that can consistently find the back of the net. The rotation creates mismatches because teams don’t know where the goals are going to come from – there’s equal likelihood the tallies come from any line.
“They can’t just key on one line or two lines,” senior Chad Kolarik said. “I think we’re really deep this year. I think that’s one of our greatest strengths, how deep our forwards are. I think if we get plugging along, all four lines, we’ll be a tough team to stop.”
And the collision of the new depth and new faces this year isn’t a coincidence. The freshmen are the main reason for the roster depth.
Besides the obvious – they make up half the team – the first-years are stepping up and contributing. Against Boston University this past weekend, the freshmen tallied seven of the 10 goals, with all six forwards scoring.
Max Pacioretty and Aaron Palushaj, the highest draft picks in the class, notched their first career scores against the Terriers. Both came off between-the-circle wrist shots followed by a mobbing on the boards (Pacioretty) and fist pumps while laying flat on the ice (Palushaj).
“They’re holding their own,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It’s not just the scoring, it’s getting scored against. Are you causing more trouble than you’re adding? And so on. I think they’ve really more than held their own.”
Freshman Matt Rust is tied for the team season-goal lead (four) with captain Kevin Porter. Louie Caporusso is tied for second in points. And both first-year centers are winning more faceoffs than their first- and fourth-line counterparts.
With the sheer size of the class, it was easier for the new skaters to bond and translate that chemistry onto the ice.
“They’re like a big family already,” Berenson said. “All 12 of them. Half of them didn’t know each other before. So they’ve got their own little family within a family.”
And while their “little family” is growing closer, the bigger family is benefiting. Michigan may be lacking the superstars it had last year, but the Wolverines are now a deeper and stronger team.
“We have maybe four lines that have a chance of scoring and so that’s good,” Berenson said. “We’re not a one-line team.”