While the No. 5 Michigan hockey team was fighting for the CCHA regular-season championship two weeks ago against Northern Michigan, sophomore forward Lindsay Sparks was fighting for his season.
Throughout the season, Sparks struggled to get into the lineup. After starting four of the first five games, he found himself wearing a suit while his team wore maize and blue for the next nine contests. By the time Michigan headed into the stretch run, the offensively-skilled forward had played in just 10 of his team’s 34 games, mainly due to concerns about his defense.
Sparks got his chance in the second game of the Wolverines’ second-to-last series of the season against Western Michigan. The good news is that he played well, providing a spark on the third line while registering two shots. The bad news is that with the postseason approaching — where lineup changes are rare — Sparks was still fighting for a spot on the line-chart.
According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, Sparks took his game to another level in practice in recent weeks. It paid off. He took the ice in both games of the final regular-season series.
“You’ve got to take the opportunity every time you get it,” Sparks said. “It happened to be the last weekend. I played well both games — last three games — so I’ve got to stay in there (and) keep playing well.”
By the end of the Wolverines’ initial game with Northern Michigan, Sparks recorded an assist. It also marked the exit for senior forward Louie Caporusso, who left the game with a lower-body injury.
Two weeks removed from the injury, Caporusso will still be out of the lineup when Michigan takes on Bowling Green in its CCHA quarterfinals series. Barring any unforeseen changes, Sparks will still be in it. He’s found a spot (at least currently) on the left side of Michigan’s third line, next to sophomore A.J. Treais and senior Ben Winnett.
“It’s been a good confidence boost for me to play three games in a row,” Sparks said. “I feel like I’ve been playing well with Treais and Winnett and Wohlberg last weekend, so (I’m) definitely getting a rhythm going.”
The parallels between Caporusso and Sparks are plentiful. Both are slightly undersized forwards — Caporusso 5-foot-10, Sparks 5-foot-9 — with speed and quick hands who are counted on for offense first. The two even hail from the Toronto suburbs. But both Sparks and Berenson agree that it isn’t Sparks’s job to be a Caporusso stunt double.
“He doesn’t necessarily have to score,” Berenson said. “If he gets his chances, you would like to see him make a difference in a game or put the puck in the net or do what he’s good at. That’s why you’re out there. In the meantime don’t hurt the team defensively. Be a solid player.
“With Louie out, somebody’s going to pick up the slack, you never know who it’s going to be. I wouldn’t put all the onus on a player like Lindsay Sparks.”
But when it comes to Friday, Sparks hopes he can do one thing Caporusso did a lot of during the course of the season — help his team win games.