When the No. 5 Michigan hockey team trekked to play Northern Michigan for the first CCHA series of the season, junior forward Lindsay Sparks was, well, the team’s spark.
On that October weekend in Marquette, he commanded the team’s offense, scoring two goals and recording two assists while skating on the third line.
After the first five games of the season, Sparks was leading Michigan in points.
Now, Michigan coach Red Berenson is questioning whether he should even be in a lineup. Sparks has been in a slump since the Wolverines’ losing streak in November.
The team broke out of its funk. But Sparks is still in the middle of his — and he’s been paying for it.
“He definitely started off the season with a little bit of a ‘wow’ factor,” Berenson said. “Then, it just slipped. Whether he lost his confidence, lost his touch, (I don’t know, but) he ended up out of the lineup.”
The fact that Sparks was having difficulty finding the back of the net has nothing to do with his lack of playing time: Berenson scratched him for eight games because of his minus-five plus/minus streak earlier in the year.
Berenson can accept that players don’t always score — as long as they can adapt and become two-way forwards. But when they become a defensive liability, it becomes a problem.
Sparks has gotten the message, loud and clear.
“I’ve definitely tried to be more defensively minded,” Sparks said. “It’s not really about points for me, it’s really about keeping the other team from scoring now.”
Sparks still hasn’t accumulated any points since being reinstated into the lineup on Jan. 20, but he’s starting to make his presence felt again. He’s currently on the third line with freshman Zack Hyman and sophomore Luke Moffatt.
Against Michigan State last weekend, Sparks had four shots on goal. He didn’t convert, but it’s a good step forward for him in Berenson’s mind, especially because Sparks has been making strides defensively.
“If he can add some offense, good,” Berenson said. “He’s got to capitalize on his chances, and then he’s got to be a good two-way player. That’s what our third and fourth lines are doing.”
JUNIOR STANDING: All eyes will be on the senior class this weekend, when it takes to the ice at Yost Ice Arena for the last regular-season home series.
The seniors are the unquestioned leaders of the Wolverines, but recently, the junior class has been stealing the offensive thunder. And for Berenson, it’s about time.
“You can’t stay the way you were when you were a freshman or a sophomore,” Berenson said. “The junior class has to take a big step if we’re going to be a good team.”
Berenson was specifically referring to junior forward A.J. Treais, who notched three goals last weekend. Berenson proudly proclaimed that Treais is finally starting to look like the “man amongst men” that he saw while recruiting Treais from the U.S. National Team Development Program.
On Monday, Berenson repeated his age-old mantra: the team with the best defense wins, and it helps when all of the Wolverines can contribute. The rest of the second line is finally starting to see that progress in Treais.
“He’s been playing really well defensively … and that’s led to some offensive production,” said senior forward Luke Glendening. “He gets to the open ice and he gets great shots. He finds ways to be open, so it’s easy to get him the puck.”
HARD HITTERS: Even in physical games wrought with penalties, there’s one hit that junior forward Chris Brown doesn’t mind taking.
“Usually, my first shift of the game, either I’m going to take a big hit or I’m going to try and give one,” Brown said.
Brown intentionally lets himself get slammed into the boards?
“It’s just something mentally that’s screwed up,” he said. “If someone hits me hard, I’m ready for the game. I’ve done it ever since I could start hitting.”
NOTES: Though no official announcement has been made, Berenson confirmed that a game against Cornell next season is in the works. It is expected to be played in New York.