On the cusp of the most important game of the year for his team, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson has altered his lineup, swapping forwards Chris Brown and Derek DeBlois in an attempt to restart U-M's second and third lines ...
A junior, Brown moves from the second line, with senior center David Wohlberg and freshman left wing Alex Guptill, to the third line to be paired with classmate Kevin Lynch at center and sophomore left wing Luke Moffatt. DeBlois takes Brown's place as the right wing on Wohlberg's line.
"I just think the lines were getting stale, especially Wohlberg's line," Berenson said. "I thought they lost their work ethic, and they were scoring as individuals but the line wasn't producing. In fact, the line was negative in the last 10 games.
"We can't go into a tournament with a line that is not helping the team, especially one that's supposed to be one of your best."
In their first 14 games together, beginning Dec. 2 at Alaska, there was no stopping Wohlberg, Brown and Guptill. The line scored 21 goals and had 24 assists and was plus-32 as U-M went 10-2-2 during that stretch, including a sweep of Ohio State Jan. 13-15 and Miami Feb. 3-4.
In the last nine games together, the three linemates were still been scoring, putting up eight goals and seven assists, but, as Berenson indicated, were minus-1 overall, and had not been quite as in sync with each other as the coaches would like heading into NCAA play.
"It's a lot of things. It's offense, defense, it's energy. It's chemistry. And so on," Berenson said. "Wohlberg's line was missing something and I think Lynch's line was missing something. And I like Kevin Lynch and Chris Brown together. You're going to see the team we're playing a big, physical team, and we're going to match up better now than without the change."
By adding the 5-10, 179-pound DeBlois to Wohlberg's line, U-M increases the defensive quotient of that unit without robbing it of offense completely. DeBlois isn't a prolific scorer but does have six goals and eight assists this season while consistently playing for the third and fourth lines.
A 6-2, 194-pounder, Brown adds size and offensive skill to a line that includes the 6-1, 198-pound Lynch and the 6-0, 194-pound Moffatt. Combined, Lynch and Moffatt have 13 goals and 14 assists - both have better talent than their numbers reflect - while Brown brings 12 goals and 17 helpers to the mix.
"We're a big, powerful, strong line," Moffatt said. "All three of us can throw around our bodies, and we're pretty big men in the corners down low so I think it will be fun to watch us down low in the offensive zone, and obviously defensively we need to bear down and make sure we don't get scored on."
Moffatt believes the switch will be good for the Wolverines going into this weekend's Midwest Regional.
"It shakes things up and hopefully gets everyone back on track," he said.
"Both of our lines were playing well but Coach felt we could play a lot better, so he made that switch to spark it," Lynch added.
Berenson didn't blink at the thought of making such a significant alteration just days before the Maize and Blue square off with Cornell.
"You get in the playoffs, and you need everyone humming," he said. "You can't have passengers, and you can't have guys that are in slumps or not working hard. I like where we are today, and I'm not afraid to make a change.
"We had to pull Steve Shields out of the net the last time we played Cornell in the best-of-three series here [in 1991]. Shields had been our goalie all year. We lost and won the first two games, and Shields was fighting the puck. Every shot was an adventure, and everyone was on eggshells, so I put in Chris Gordon for the third game, and we won.
"So you've got to do what you think is best for the team."
Michigan's approach to its opponent has always been unique. Instead of focusing heavily on the foe, U-M instead focuses on itself. The players watch very little film during the week compared to other teams, as Berenson believes his team should always play its game and dictate play, with the opponent reacting to the Wolverines. When that happens, Michigan usually wins.
"[Wednesday] was the first day we actually watched video of them," Lynch said. "Coach does stress a lot about playing our game, and then we'll worry about the team we're facing later in the week. But he mentioned that they're a big, physical team."
Sophomore defenseman Jon Merrill has been the focus of media attention this week as a number of national sites have drawn a parallel to U-M's second-half success and the return of Merrill from an indefinite suspension Jan. 6.
In the 22 games before Merrill, Michigan went just 11-8-3 but in the 18 games since his return, the Maize and Blue are 13-4-1.
"It's coincidence," Merrill said. "They had won two big games against Michigan State and Boston College at the Great Lakes Invitational before I even came back. The team was going in the right direction, and then I came back and we didn't have any questions looming over guys' heads anymore. They didn't have to deal with questions asking about my suspension.
"So I just think it was a coincidence."
Since returning, Merrill has contributed two goals and nine assists and is plus-12. As he sat in the lounge at Yost Ice Arena being interviewed Wednesday, he admitted feeling very fortunate to even being in this position.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "In October, I was wondering if I'd be able to play the rest of the year at all. And then when I came back, it's been exciting, and now I'm getting comfortable. I've only played 16 games but I feel like I've played the entire season.
"I'm just going to take full advantage of this weekend and hopefully head down to Tampa [for the Frozen Four April 5-7] after this weekend."
Michigan departed for Green Bay Wednesday, and will practice today at 4:15 p.m. followed by a press conference at 5:30 p.m.