When Michigan is on the powerplay, it’s easy to focus on
the forwards. Whether it’s Milan Gajic and Jeff Tambellini at
the faceoff circle itching to fire a shot, Eric Nystrom and Brandon
Kaleniecki banging bodies in front of the crease or T.J. Hensick
weaving through the defense looking to set up teammates, the
forwards receive most of the powerplay attention from opponents and
fans.

But keep an eye on the defensemen when the Wolverines have the
man-advantage. As last weekend’s series with Alaska-Fairbanks
demonstrated, the blueliners are just as important.

When Michigan went on the powerplay for five minutes midway
through the third period of last Friday’s game, the
Wolverines capitalized with a pair of goals to break a tie. And
neither goal was scored by a forward.

Juniors Eric Werner and Brandon Rogers scored the game-winning
and game-clinching goals, respectively. Both goals came the same
way — scored off a good cross-ice pass from the top of the
right faceoff circle.

But Saturday, the same aggressiveness that the Wolverines were
able to capitalize on Friday caught up with Michigan. Rogers got
caught creeping in from the blueline and, when the puck coasted by
him, the Nanooks took advantage and scored a shorthanded goal on an
odd-man opportunity.

While the up-and-down weekend demonstrates the inconsistencies
of Michigan’s powerplay success all season, overall the
Wolverines have been stellar on the powerplay. They have converted
20.9 percent (33-of-158) of their powerplay opportunities this
season, the best mark in the CCHA.

A big reason for their success has been the efforts of
Michigan’s defensemen, whose duties include keeping pucks in
the zone, picking out lanes to set up forwards and swooping in to
get off a shot.

“The powerplay is an opportunity to take advantage,”
said Werner, who is fourth among the Wolverines in powerplay points
with three goals and six assists. “For defensemen the mindset
is to move the puck around because there will always be people
open.”

Rogers, who is second in powerplay scoring with three goals and
nine assists, agreed. He also stressed that it is important for
defensemen to take shots because it forces the opponents to spread
out more on the ice and opens up more holes.

In situations like on Saturday, when deciding whether or not to
head for the net at the risk of giving up a two-on-one, both Rogers
and Werner believed that it’s usually a worthwhile gamble.
The Wolverines have given up seven shorthanded goals, but their
aggressiveness may be the primary reason for their powerplay
success.

“If there’s a lane and you can sneak in and you can
get the puck … it’s worth trying because if it hits
your stick there’s a good chance you can get the puck to the
net,” Rogers said.

As for why the powerplay is sometimes clicking and other times
in a funk, Rogers believed effort is the main reason.

“Sometimes when it’s not successful it’s
because you’re a little too lackadaisical or you just expect
things to happen,” Rogers said. “It really comes down
to hard work, and if that’s not there, goals won’t
come.”

With Miami, the CCHA’s first place and highest scoring
team, up next, Michigan’s defensemen need to be ready to work
the hardest they have all season.

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