Bad puns about “sparking” the No. 6 Michigan hockey team’s offense aren’t necessary.
Junior forward Lindsay Sparks’s play spoke for itself in the Wolverines’ 5-0 trouncing of Niagara in the regular-season opener on Tuesday at Yost Ice Arena.
The season had barely begun when Sparks gave Michigan (1-0) its first lead 1:02 into the first period. He added two more goals in the span of a minute in the second period to become the first Wolverine since Louie Caporusso in March 2010 to record a hat trick.
Sparks received some help on his first and last goals — the former on a string of passes to the crease by freshman forward Zach Hyman and junior defenseman Lee Moffie, and the latter from a fortunate deflection off a Purple Eagle defenseman.
“It just seemed like everything we shot found the back of the net,” Sparks said. “When you have games like that, it just kind of falls into your lap, and you just run with it and build off it.”
The two goals may have fallen in Sparks’s lap, but the third goal was all his own.
And it was a beauty.
Sparks left the penalty box to find Niagara forward Patrick Divjak with the puck and his back turned. He pick-pocketed Divjak, deked the goalie and fired a backhanded wrister into the top shelf.
Sparks had just eight points last season, yet he tallied four in this season’s opener with the addition of a second-period assist on junior forward Chris Brown’s goal.
“Lindsay has been a question mark, whether he can score,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I’ve seen it right from day one (this year). He’s looked like a better hockey player, and he might be one of our most skilled players.”
Sparks’s two second-period goals came in a flurry of shots at the end of the frame that led to three Wolverine goals. And there could have been one more.
Just seconds after Sparks’s two tallies, freshman forward Phil Di Giuseppe appeared to score the first regular-season goal of his career, but Michigan was whistled for goalie interference and the goal was waved off. Brown scored just minutes later to give the Wolverines a commanding 5-0 advantage.
The Michigan defense suffocated Niagara all game. The Purple Eagles outshot the Wolverines, 38-37, but Michigan kept the puck in Niagara’s zone for the majority of the game. Of the Purple Eagles’ 38 shots, few were genuine scoring opportunities.
Fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick turned away the ones that were close. He made several flashy saves, including a diving stop and a glove save on a one-timer in the second period. He finished the night with 30 stops, and sophomore goalie Adam Janecyk spelled Hunwick for the final 9:32 of the game to complete the shutout.
“Hunwick, really I thought was a big factor in the game, in the second period especially,” Berenson said.
Still, Berenson wasn’t pleased with the amount of penalties his team committed. And he’s keeping expectations in check despite the lopsided score.
“I think we were opportunistic — we got lucky around the net,” Berenson said. “Even though we outscored them in the second and took a comfortable lead, we didn’t outplay them.
“You feel good about the score, you feel good about players getting some confidence and winning your first real game of the year, so that’s all positive.”