Junior Mike Cammalleri, like every michigan hockey player, wears a large block “M” on his sweater. But recently, it appears more like a giant “X.”
Ask any coach about the keys to beating the Wolverines and he will almost always mention limiting the scoring opportunities of the talented center.
Cammalleri is Michigan”s leading returning scorer from last season, and one of the premier college hockey players in the nation. Teams make sure they know where he is on the ice and often have a man shadowing him at all times.
“(Cammalleri) is one of the best players in the nation,” said Minnesota junior Jeff Taffe, who has scored 13 goals this season and is also considered one of the top players in the nation. “Our coaches wanted to have our top line out there against him every time. We knew we had to play defense against him and we were able to hold him down (on Friday night).”
Minnesota prevented Cammalleri from scoring on his five shots and won the game 5-2. In addition, the Golden Gophers shut down the rest of Michigan”s forwards, surrendering goals to just defensemen Jay Vancik and Mike Komisarek.
But Saturday night, in a 5-3 victory over Wisconsin, Michigan got stellar performances from its top three lines, displaying the depth that coach Red Berenson has been calling for.
With all four centers scoring at least one point on Saturday, the Wolverines were able to take some pressure off of Cammalleri. If all of the lines continue to produce and apply offensive pressure on opposing teams, opportunities will open up for Michigan.
“Going into a game, I think teams focus on (Cammalleri) to try and shut him down,” said Komisarek after Saturday”s game. “But I think when the scoring is more spread out and different guys are scoring and contributing, teams will have a tougher time containing us.”
Center John Shouneyia was named the second star of Saturday”s game after he netted a goal and an assist. His weekend total of four points provided offensive depth for the Wolverines. Shouneyia is now second on the team with 12 points three behind Cammalleri.
In addition, the Wolverines received a lift from freshman Dwight Helminen, who is quickly becoming one of the team”s top penalty killers and a reliable third-line center.
“Helminen might be our best defensive centerman,” Berenson said after Saturday”s game. “He has great instincts and speed. He is a tireless skater, a strong penalty killer and is a player that is just getting better and better every game.”
Helminen, who is known as one of the best skaters on the team, had an abundance of energy all weekend. He was able to jump into plays and create opportunities for his linemates by staying on the puck.
The hard work paid off for the freshman when he set up David Moss for a goal early in the third period against Wisconsin. But seconds before the puck slid across the goal line, Moss was called for a high-sticking penalty negating the goal.
Helminen, who had several scoring opportunities on the weekend, finally got his name on the scoresheet in the final seconds of Saturday”s game when he received a pass from Jason Ryznar while streaking down the ice and scored an empty-net goal.
“When I am skating well, I am able to cover a lot of area in the defensive zone,” Helminen said. “I am also able to set some people up on the backcheck.”
While Cammalleri says he expects a lot of pressure and is aware that he is the main scoring threat for the Wolverines, he will not be able to carry them through the entire season.
By providing a spark for their lines and creating a balanced attack for Michigan, Helminen and Shouneyia were able to alleviate some of the pressure placed on Cammalleri they will need to keep it up if Michigan hopes to be playing come April.