Sophomore David Rohlfs isn’t just a big bruiser, just a strong skater or just a forward who can also play defense. He’s all of those things.
At 234 pounds, sophomore Rohlfs is the heaviest player on the Michigan hockey team. And throughout this season, the 2003 Edmonton Oilers draft pick has tried to use his size to produce — something that the coaching staff has continually stressed.
Last Saturday in Michigan’s 5-2 win against Alaska-Fairbanks, Rohlfs — who stands 6-foot-3 — used his size to score what ended up being the game-winning goal in the second period. He was parked in front of the net when senior linemate Jason Ryznar passed up a shot from below the right circle and fed Rohlfs, who had an open shot. When he buried the puck, the Wolverines went up 3-0. Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan said that Rohlfs’s size is what made the play happen.
“We had a defenseman on him, and he didn’t even look like we were putting any pressure on him,” MacMillan said.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said that the Nanooks’ defenseman didn’t try very hard and might have been intimidated by Rohlfs’s size.
“But that’s something that you get with size,” Berenson said. “He controlled that space and the other guy didn’t.
“That’s the gift that he has. He’s still a 19-year-old kid inside. But on the outside, he’s still a big-bodied player. And he’s a good skater for his size — he’s an exceptional skater for his size. He’s not just a big player. He’s a big player who can skate.”
Rohlfs has also been one of the more versatile players on the team this season. At the Great Lakes Invitational over winter break, Michigan was short one defenseman. Sophomore Matt Hunwick was playing with the U.S. national team at the World Juniors, and senior Eric Werner was out with a knee injury. Michigan was left with just five defensemen after backup Reilly Olson filled in for Hunwick. To fill the empty slot, Berenson looked to Rohlfs. The coach approached the sophomore and asked him to fill in on defense for the tournament. Rohlfs — who had spent some time on defense when he first started playing hockey — agreed.
“I obviously kept it simple,” Rohlfs said. “I was paired with (sophomore Jason) Dest pretty much, and I felt I played pretty solid. I tried to minimize mistakes, just keep it simple and just keep the puck moving forward.”
Rohlfs said that his time on defense during the GLI has helped him improve his play in the defensive zone. He explained that he has a better idea of whom the defensemen may need help with. And when three defensemen were whistled for penalties during a fight on Friday night, Berenson went back to Rohlfs for the last few minutes of the game.
“He gives us another option now,” Berenson said after Friday’s game. “In a penalty-filled game, or when a couple of guys are struggling or hurt or tired, we can put Rohlfs back on defense. That’s good. Right now, it helps us.”
But his big size has not always made things easier for Rohlfs. Last week, after a particularly tough weekend against Western Michigan, most of the icers got Monday’s practice off. But not Rohlfs. On Monday afternoon, he was out on the ice with all of the players who were scratches from the weekend series. Rohlfs said that he needed the extra practice because of less ice time over the weekend. Berenson said that was only part of the story.
“He’s a young player, and he needs more work,” Berenson said. “If he can’t get as much ice time in the games, then he needs to be on the ice in practice.”
Ryznar, a big guy himself at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, realizes that big players often take more time to develop.
“I think it’s harder to stay in shape and get in shape when you are bigger,” Ryznar said. “A lot of bigger guys are late bloomers.”
Rohlfs’s extra work has paid off. Early in the season, he had to compete for playing time with senior forward Michael Woodford. Rohlfs wasn’t on the ice for Michigan’s 1-0 overtime loss at Ferris State because Berenson decided to sit Rohlfs in favor the senior. But Rohlfs has gotten more ice time recently and has steadily improved.
“David is doing OK,” Berenson said. “Again, he’s not a player you can measure with goals or points. He’s a player that has to play strong along the boards and play physical.”