There are not many secrets to solving the Michigan hockey team.
Its top scorers, sophomores Mike Cammalleri and Andy Hilbert, rank in the top six in the nation in scoring, while accounting for 30 percent of the Wolverines” offensive output.
Simply stated, as Hilbert and Cammalleri go, so goes Michigan.
“You know that they”re a big part of our team,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “And you know that everybody else knows that too.”
Many coaches around the CCHA insist that the key to stopping Michigan consists of shutting down its two main stars. Such a containment can be accomplished by simply beating them up in an attempt to get them off their games. Most coaches send gritty checking lines to shadow Hilbert and Cammalleri”s every stride.
“You just have to work hard and be mentally prepared,” Hilbert said. “They are going to be out there and put a checking line on you and that”s their job to shut you down.”
And the coaches have a valid point. Michigan has lost just once in 19 games (15-1-3) when Cammalleri has scored a goal and twice in 18 games (15-2-1) when Hilbert has lit the lamp.
But when neither of the two explosive forwards score a goal, the Wolverines are 3-9-2.
“There”s no question they”re huge components to this team,” assistant coach Billy Powers said. “I think you find out in most teams that, if your top guys aren”t going, it”s hard to pick up the slack.”
This is evident in Michigan”s skid at the end of the regular season, as it went 1-4-1 down the stretch. In three of those losses, neither Hilbert nor Cammalleri found the scoresheet.
“Everybody has their role on the team, and myself and Andy are counted on to produce offensively,” said Cammalleri, who had his five-game scoring streak snapped Saturday in Michigan”s loss to Michigan State. “We take that as a responsibility and we accept that responsibility. We”ll go out there and hope to be able to contribute.”
Berenson and the players agree that when their top line is clicking on all cylinders and is putting points on the board, it”s a sign that the whole team is playing well.
“It definitely gets your team on a roll,” freshman forward Joe Kautz said. “Then we see that their team”s down and we try to capitalize on it. But Hilbert and Cammalleri are the ones who start it off.”
Kautz is a third-liner who has found a way to slip through the cracks and ride Hilbert”s and Cammalleri”s coattails to the tune of five points in the CCHA playoffs a feat that earned him All-Tournament team honors.
But while the rest of the Wolverines feed off the momentum created by the first-liners, it has quite an aversive effect on the opponent”s psyche.
“We often play our top line against the other team”s top line,” Berenson said. “And if we can overpower them and outscore them, then it”s very discouraging for the other team.”
But Hilbert and Cammalleri don”t always light the lamp, as the Wolverines found out the hard way this past Saturday after getting shutout by the Spartans. Michigan State”s goaltender Ryan Miller said after the game that he saw some visible frustration on the faces of the Wolverines. No matter how many rocket shots Hilbert sent towards the net or crafty maneuvers Cammalleri pulled off, no one could score when Michigan needed it the most.
The top line can carry the Wolverines for a while, but, as the NCAA Tournament rapidly approaches, other Wolverines cannot afford to depend on the hot hands of their top two scorers to produce.
Third- or fourth-liners like Kautz will have to step up if Michigan wants to reach the promised land.
“That”s why our team can”t be a one-line team,” Hilbert said. Having everyone producing is “what it”s going to take for us to do something special out there.”