Earlier this season, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson would have been happy with just three healthy defensive parings.
But now some of his players would be happy with a little more time on the ice.
In a role reversal from earlier this year, when the fourth-ranked Wolverines had three injured players on the blue line, Michigan players are now battling it out on the ice and in practice for a spot on one of those pairings.
And no one knows that more then sophomore Scooter Vaughan.
In last weekend’s series against Nebraska-Omaha, it was a relief for Vaughan to get back some playing time. The last time Vaughan saw game action was in Michigan’s 3-0 loss to Bowling Green a month ago.
Both Berenson and Vaughan saw things they liked on the ice, but also saw plenty of rust in Vaughan’s game that has to be cleaned if he wants to keep his playing time.
“He showed that he hadn’t played in awhile,” Berenson said.
And though he made mistakes in both games, Vaughan contributed at a time when his team needed it most.
With Michigan leading 4-3 Friday night, Vaughan helped spark a four-goal third period by adding two assists in less than 30 seconds.
“It’s just nice to get back out there and contribute,” Vaughan said. “That’s what I came to school to do, is to get on the ice and play hockey.”
After the losses of senior captain Mark Mitera, junior Steve Kampfer and freshman Brandon Burlon at the blue line earlier this season, plenty of spots were open on defense. But with Burlon and Kampfer both returning and the possible return of Mitera within a few weeks, open spots became limited on the active roster.
Vaughan and the rest of the defenseman realize this, which helps create healthy competition between the blueliners. They know that they must make the most of playing time or else they might not see it again for the rest of the season.
That’s why Vaughan knows what he needs to do to stay on the ice.
“Keep working and keep performing when I get the opportunity to play,” Vaughan said. “It starts in practice, so I work hard there and work hard in the weight room. Then when it becomes Friday and Saturday night, just show why I should be out there.”
Finally powerful play: If there’s one facet that mirrors the Wolverines’ season exactly, it’s on the man advantage.
Sometimes it’s hot, sometimes it’s nonexistent and sometimes it’s hit or miss.
After going scoreless on its last 12 power plays coming into last weekend, Michigan excelled against the Mavericks.
The Wolverines scored on five of its 10 power-play chances, four on Friday night and one on Saturday.
“The only thing I liked about the game was the power play,” Berenson said. “We got some offense going.”
Palushaj’s big night: When a team scores eight goals in one game, that’s something special. And one player was involved in five of the tallies.
Sophomore forward Aaron Palushaj assisted on four goals and scored one Friday. He set a career high in single-game points and assists.
“It is probably just the puck bouncing my way,” Palushaj said. “I got a goal though, which is nice, but I wasn’t really doing too much. I was just moving the puck and we were bearing hard.”
Palushaj’s lone goal came off a deflection of a shot by sophomore Carl Hagelin for the Wolverines’ sixth goal of the night. Three of his helpers came on the power play.