So far in this young Michigan hockey season, Scooter Vaughn’s statistics don’t jump off the page.
The sophomore defenseman has tallied just one point, an assist, through six games. His plus/minus rating is an unremarkable minus-3. But those statistics aren’t always the best indicators of a blue liner’s impact on the ice.
Two other numbers better tell the story of the Placentia, Calif. native’s presence this season. Vaughan leads the eighth-ranked Wolverines with five blocked shots. And on a Michigan team that is tied for second in the CCHA with 20.2 penalty minutes per game, Vaughan has taken just one penalty. Those statistics are a testament to his discipline and defensive prowess.
“(Scooter’s) a tough kid,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “But he doesn’t play stupid. He doesn’t take stupid penalties, but he plays a physical brand of defensive hockey.”
Coming into the season, Michigan’s defensive corps was arguably the Wolverines’ greatest strength. But a slew of injuries has forced three blueliners out of the lineup. Two of the Wolverines’ top defensemen, senior Mark Mitera and junior Steve Kampfer, are out indefinitely. Having played in 39 career games, Vaughan is one of the most experienced healthy defensemen, and he now has much less margin for error. His improvement has indicated as much.
“I think he developed more of a sense of urgency with Mitera and Kampfer out,” Berenson said. “He knows he’s one of our top four defensemen. He has to play well every night or we’re not going to be as good.”
Even without the injuries, Vaughan’s playing time was expected to increase. Among his primary objectives during the offseason were improving his endurance and adding some muscle to his frame. And while that summer conditioning seems to be paying off for the six-foot 195-pound defenseman, Vaughan said his further development as a defender will hinge on fundamentals and technique.
“I knew I was going to be out there with a lot of top lines on the other teams,” Vaughan said. “So just make sure I shut that line down and make sure I keep the puck out of the net. … I’ve got to battle more in the defensive zone. Offense will come.”
So too, as the season progresses, will Vaughan’s intangibles. Summers has taken Mitera’s place as acting team captain. Of the six active Wolverine defensemen, Greg Pateryn is a freshman and junior walk-on Eric Elmblad played in just three games last season. Brandon Burlon, the third injured blueliner, is also a freshman. Though Vaughan often plays alongside Summers, his partners on the blue line vary.
Vaughan has already made quite an impression on Pateryn, though the two are rarely paired together. And if Pateryn needs some extra tutoring, he knows where to turn to for advice.
“I think we feed off each other when we play together,” Pateryn said. “He’s helped me out a lot throughout the season so far.”
Vaughan knows he might have to provide some coaching in case others need to be brought up to speed.
“I do feel leadership has to become a factor,” Vaughan said. “Summers is our only captain right now. I’ve got to help him out a little bit. Just make sure that they’re doing alright, make sure that they know what to do. If they do have any questions, help them.”