The Michigan hockey team’s top-scoring line pairs freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe with two Clydesdales.
Bear with Michigan coach Red Berenson as he gets a little metaphoric.
“They had these Clydesdale horses, and they said they could each pull 10,000 pounds,” Berenson said. “But together they could pull 30,000 pounds. Now how could that be? But it’s true, it’s a fact. It’s a little bit like hockey players. If you get two players really playing well together, they could be much better than they were as individuals.”
The identity of the unnamed “they” — the ones conducting these horse experiments — remains unclear. But the two Clydesdales on the hockey team? That’s easy: junior forwards Chris Brown and A.J. Treais.
So what’s Di Giuseppe? Well, he’s a little harder to peg.
“Phil’s in his own world,” Treais teased.
Added Brown: “Phil’s Phil. He’s kind of doing whatever he needs to do to get by right now.”
Whatever he’s doing is working. Berenson said that his second line — consisting of Treais, Brown and Di Giuseppe — has become the “offensive spark” for the team. They rank second, third and fourth, respectively, on the team’s points list.
Berenson describes the ideal line as one with a creator, a scorer and a physical two-way player. And with this line, he has his prototype. Treais handles the puck often and can create opportunities through fancy skating or puck handling.
Di Giuseppe started tallying goals the moment he stepped on campus, and he’s scored consistently ever since. That makes things easier on his linemates.
“Give the puck to Phil,” Brown said. “Just give him the puck, and let him shoot. Because every time he shoots, he shoots to score.”
And if they don’t score? No problem. Berenson often speaks of Brown as a physical force on the ice. If Treais gets too fancy and loses the puck, or if Di Giuseppe misses the cage, Brown can handle any transition opportunities that may result for the opposition. Brown calls it being “the caboose.”
“If I screw up, I know Brownie will be there to correct it or be a man back there,” Di Giuseppe said.
Like the Clydesdales, the line has pulled more than its own weight because of chemistry. Treais and Di Giuseppe say that they know where the other will be on the ice at all times. They’ve become familiar with each other’s routes, to the point where if they just call the other’s name, they can expect a puck on the tape.
The level of chemistry is a bit surprising — for one, the three don’t exactly come from typical hockey backgrounds. Treais is Filipino, Brown is a Texan and the pair will tell you that Di Giuseppe is Italian, though he’s actually from Canada.
And Di Giuseppe doesn’t seem like he’d jell with the pair of jovial roommates he plays alongside.
Brown and Treais speak well and are prone to joking when they’re together. Di Giuseppe isn’t comfortable in interviews. He says all the right things — about trying to improve and becoming a two-way hockey player — but his mind often seems to be elsewhere. Once, he started chuckling in the middle of a question, for reasons unknown even to him.
“It’s easy,” Di Giuseppe began one answer. “What was I going to say? I don’t know what I was going to say.”
Not so easy, eh?
“Speak, man!” Brown interjected.
“I forgot what I was going to say,” Di Giuseppe said.
Berenson hesitates to crown the line as the go-to unit when the team needs to score — he said that once he does that, the line will probably hit a dry spell.
Though the trio does score frequently, the goals often come from deflections, rebounds and just putting the puck on net — not what you’d expect out of a talented scoring line.
“The goals they’ve scored are kind of lucky goals,” Berenson said. “It’s not like they’re flashy goals or real skilled goals, even though that line is pretty skilled.”
But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Di Giuseppe said the line tries to do the simple things, and that often leads to positive results.
At Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, a Treais check created a turnover and allowed Di Giuseppe to get off a shot. He didn’t score, but Brown converted on the rebound.
“(It) wasn’t the prettiest goal,” Di Giuseppe said. “Most of our goals aren’t highlight-reel goals. All of our goals, I think, have been hard work down in the corners, working it out.”
True, it wasn’t the prettiest goal, and the three don’t make the typical trio. But together, they’ve become Michigan’s main source of offense, greater than the sum of its parts — just like those Clydesdales.