SAULT STE. MARIE — The results don’t indicate just how different the Michigan hockey team looked against Lake Superior State.
The final box score does show the difference between the slumping players of old and the new refurbished versions, though.
In both Friday’s 6-4 victory and Saturday’s 3-2 defeat, the Wolverines received offensive help from a quartet of forwards — senior A.J. Treais, juniors Luke Moffatt and Derek DeBlois and freshman Boo Nieves — who all scored at least once.
Although they have struggled to contribute lately, the group finished with an increase in the number of shots on goal, and decreased the pressure on the depleted defensive corps. As proof of the improved production, Michigan recorded 46 shots against the Lakers on Friday — its first time tallying more than 40 since a shootout win at Ferris State on Dec. 1.
Two of the Wolverines’ next three opponents — Western Michigan and Notre Dame — rank in the NCAA’s top-five defensive teams in goals against average. Both teams are holding opposing teams to two goals or less this season, which will mean that the quartet will need to step up once more in order for Michigan to continue improving this season.
Averaging 34.5 shots on goal per game heading into the Lake Superior State series, the Wolverines exceeded that number in both games after finishing with 37 on Saturday.
One of Michigan’s leading shooters during the weekend was DeBlois, who finished with nine shots on goal — good for second on the team. DeBlois also found the back of the net when he knocked in a rebound off sophomore Travis Lynch’s slapshot on Friday. It was his first goal since a Nov. 9 win over Michigan State.
Moffatt ultimately highlighted Friday’s offensive production for the Wolverines, exceeding his total scoring output this year with his two goals against the Lakers. Despite scoring against Bowling Green on Jan. 8, Moffatt had failed to tally a goal in any of his prior games.
The Paradise Valley, Ariz. native first scored after sophomore forward Andrew Sinelli sailed a well-timed pass for the tip in. Moffatt scored again off an assist from Sinelli when he tapped in a rebound from Sinelli’s shot in the second period of Friday’s game.
“We were all finally clicking together,” Moffatt said. “We got some good chemistry going. We were playing for each other, the team and for Michigan, so I think that’s something that really changed.”
Added Michigan coach Red Berenson: “I think he just worked hard and got a break early in the game. It gives you a life when you score a goal. You’re supposed to be a goal scorer and you go all year without scoring a goal. It’s pretty frustrating. He worked hard and he got rewarded here tonight.”
Both Moffatt and DeBlois were held in check on Saturday, yet their contributions on Friday came at a valuable time when CCHA playoff seeding will be a factor in extending the life of the season.
After scoring five goals in the season’s first four games, Treais was one of the few bright spots in the offense on Saturday when Moffatt and DeBlois were unable to produce. Despite leading the team in scoring and points, Treais has been held without a goal since Dec. 1 against Ferris State.
But on Saturday, Treais scored his 11th goal of the season when sophomore forward Alex Guptill crossed a perfectly timed pass in front of Lake Superior State goalie Kevin Kapalka. Treais recorded just four shots over the weekend, though, but is looking to use the goal as a building block for the remainder of his final collegiate season.
“It’s a relief for me,” Treais said. “I haven’t had much confidence in my game lately, and to get that one off your back — maybe I can get something going. It’s been a while so it feels good.”
Nieves has been on the giving end as of late, until Saturday when he found himself on the receiving end when he tapped in sophomore forward Phil Di Giuseppe’s rebound for his fourth goal of the season.
The New York Rangers draft pick also hadn’t scored since Dec. 1 as well, but has recorded two assists in his past four games. Nieves’ power-play goal in the waning seconds of a man advantage also marked an improvement from a unit that ranks 49th out of 59 teams in the country.
“We’re running out of games, so we have to play like its playoff hockey, play like we’re desperate.” Treais said. “Hopefully, we’ll figure something out.”