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March 22, 2013

Captains have led the way for Michigan hockey resurrection

For years, Michigan's captains have been synonymous with great performances, especially in the playoffs, and while this year's four appointed leaders went through their ups and downs, they are peaking when the Wolverines need them the most.

"Obviously when we weren't playing well we took that on ourselves that maybe it was something we weren't doing right as captains," senior alternate Kevin Lynch said. "We got the team together two months ago, had a meeting, and we knew if we told our team they had to amp up their games we had to also.

"We had to make them believe in us and everything would fall into place. It was on our shoulders and we were ready for it, and I think all of us have done a good job raising our games."

Lynch wasn't a captain when the season began, overlooked by teammates in the balloting - he was given an 'A' by the coaching staff Nov. 13 -- but he's emerged as one of the team's most important players this year.

Skating with tremendous effort and urgency, using his physicality to frustrate opponents, leading the way on the penalty kill, and even emerging offensively, Lynch has been his best during Michigan's eight-game unbeaten streak, contributing four goals and three assists among his 10 markers and 14 helpers on the year.

"Kevin Lynch has given our team everything every night," head coach Red Berenson said. "Even when our team was losing, he was still a bright spot, and now he's a brighter spot."

Senior center A.J. Treais was bestowed the honor of wearing the 'C' by his teammates, and he came out of the gate burgeoning with confidence, scoring 10 goals in Michigan's first 15 games. But since then a slump has overwhelmed Treais - he's scored just one goal in his past 23 games and hasn't hit the back of the net in the last 14.

For awhile, the slump consumed Treais, and he looked lost on the ice, trying to do too much with the puck on his own. He was demoted from the first line to the second and eventually the third line, where he resides now, but along the way, Treais woke up and became a better teammate, picking up a team-high nine assists in the past eight games. He has six assists alone in four playoff contests.

"He has that fever back," Berenson said. "He has that confidence now and a little more jump in his stride, and he's feeling good."

Bennett missed eight games in January and early February with a leg injury, but has been, arguably, Michigan's most consistent captain all year. The junior alternate has notched a career high six goals this season and has been a steadying influence for his defensive partner, freshman Jacob Trouba.

"I like everything about him," Trouba said. "He always knows the right play to make and he's there for me whenever I need him. He's a great skater so he can recover if I get in trouble or if he does, and he just really makes the game easier for me."

The third alternate, senior defenseman Lee Moffie was brutal for much of the year, struggling to a plus/minus of minus-7 in the first 30 games of the year. There was talk that if U-M could ever field a healthy blue line, he would be one of the odd-men out despite the fact that he was a senior.

In recent weeks, paired with junior Jon Merrill, Moffie has experienced a renaissance, earning a plus-6 in the past eight games while contributing a goal and an assist. More importantly, he has been strong in his own zone.

"Moffie has played his best hockey and has been a good team player all year," Berenson said. "He struggled individually, but now he's really playing well and that's important for our team.

"I think the players had a lot of respect for Moffie when things weren't going well for him and he was still working his tail off and doing everything right for the team. They saw how he handled things when it wasn't good, and there was no blaming anyone. He just continued to work and now it's paying off."

If Michigan vanquishes Miami Saturday in a CCHA semifinal (4:35 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit), and finds a way to win Sunday, earning an NCAA automatic bid, there is no doubt that its captains will lead the way as other great leaders like Brendan Morrison, Jed Ortmeyer, Eric Nystrom and Carl Hagelin did.

"I think there is a tradition that gets passed down and between myself, Lee Moffie, Kevin Lynch and A.J. Treais, we've all played playoff hockey, we know what it's like, and we know you need your best players to step up," Bennett said.

"Whether it's the seniors, the juniors, all the way down the freshmen, guys are accepting their roles, and everyone is stepping up their game, but the captains have definitely played harder these last three weekends and have led by example."

Which captain has been the most instrumental to Michigan's success in recent weeks? Vote in our Yost Post poll.

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