Last weekend’s stats for sophomore defenseman Chad Langlais were pretty easy to overlook.
No goals. No assists. No shots.
But according to Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson, a good defenseman is hard to notice.
“When you’re looking at a defenseman, you don’t judge them by their good plays,” Berenson said last week. “You judge them by their mistakes. It’s just the nature of the game. … If you don’t notice the defenseman, he’s not making turnovers or getting beat down on the line, he’s probably having a good game.”
With the loss of senior captain Mark Mitera and junior Steve Kampfer to injuries, Michigan needs Langlais to keep playing mistake-free hockey as his minutes on the ice increase.
Thursday’s home game against Niagara (1-2-1) will showcase the new look of the Michigan defensive corps to the Yost Ice Arena crowd. Berenson calls the unit “thinner.” It’s younger and less experienced, but it also has something to prove.
After splitting their series at Northern Michigan last weekend, the fifth-ranked Wolverines (3-1-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) need to step up their defensive effort, however short handed they may be.
Langlais might just be the player to lead the charge.
Langlais came to Michigan as a 20-year-old freshman last fall, after playing two years of junior hockey with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
Now, the second-oldest blueliner on the roster will have to lead the defense like a veteran — even though it’s just his second year as a Wolverine.
Still, Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers stressed the importance of not adding pressure to the defensemen, who are filling the void left by injuries.
“You have to do what you’re capable of,” Powers said. “We just need him to continue doing what he’s doing. It’s good enough.”
In the Wolverines’ season opener against St. Lawrence, Langlais tallied the first goal of his collegiate career midway through the second period. Before the season, he said he thought he could be a more offensive defenseman this season, even though it’s not his coaches’ main focus.
Last year, Langlais had 19 assists, and teammates have said he improved his passing from then to now, a development his coaches see, too. Powers said this could be Langlais’s “breakout year.”
“Right from the get-go, I saw in him that he has the vision and the skill,” Berenson said.
Junior defenseman Chris Summers called Langlais “one of the smartest guys on the team” with his on-ice prowess.
Langlais has been a constant fixture on the Wolverines’ top power play unit since the beginning of last season. Power-play skaters possess certain intangible qualities in their games — like clear vision, quick reaction time and awareness — and they make Langlais special.
“He has gifts and skills that you cannot teach,” Powers said.
This year, the Michigan coaching staff expects him to “quarterback” the power-play group, leading the way with his experience and increased confidence.
It’s time for teammates to look up to the 5-foot-8 defenseman.
“He’s a warrior, he battles, and he plays bigger than his size,” Powers said. “He’s elusive. He’s patient. We need him to continue being a dominant force at both ends of the ice. He’s off to a good start.”