The Michigan hockey team departed for St. Louis and the West Regional on Wednesday, and skated early this afternoon at the Scottrade Center. When they take to the ice tomorrow evening (5:30 p.m.) for a contest against Nebraska-Omaha they will look a little different than the last time U-M fans saw them …
Head coach Red Berenson has tweaked his lineup, giving him three potent lines to combat the units his team will face Friday against the Mavericks and potentially Saturday against Boston College or Colorado College.
It started March 18 when, mid-game, Berenson moved senior Ben Winnett from the fourth line to the second line, putting classmate Scooter Vaughan on the fourth line.
This week, Winnett stayed put, joining senior center Matt Rust and junior right wing Luke Glendening, while Vaughan is now on the third line with sophomore center Kevin Lynch and sophomore right wing A.J. Treais (previously at center).
This setup leaves sophomore Jeff Rohrkemper as the fourth-line center with sophomore Lindsay Sparks and freshmen Luke Moffatt and Derek DeBlois fighting for two wing positions.
"I wanted to get a little more balance on our third and fourth lines and I thought Scooter was the guy that could really take a leadership role," Berenson said. "I switched him and Winnett.
"I like Scooter with Lynch. Scooter adds a dimension of speed and the threat of good offense. Plus, he can kill penalties with Lynch. I think Winnett has really fit in really well with Rust too.
"There has to be a little bit of flexibility in our players. Winnett has played left wing, center and right wing. Well now he's playing left wing in a huge role on our team."
Vaughan has been one of the Wolverines' biggest surprises, ranking third on the team with 12 goals this year after scoring just two markers previously in his career. He spent the first two seasons a defensemen before transitioning to forward in 2009-10.
Months or even weeks ago, a move from the second to third line might look like a demotion, but Vaughan isn't being punished - Berenson is so proud of Vaughan that he considers the 6-1, 196-pounder to be a significant boost to Lynch's line.
"I moved him to take over the line," Berenson said. "Rust and Scooter and Luke have been a solid line but I need to spread some of that out.
"Rust and Luke are the twosome on that line and now Scooter and Lynch are the go-to guys and I actually put A.J. Treais playing right wing now with those guys and he's good with that. I think that line can be a good line."
It could be just the thing that makes Michigan more potent than ever. Lynch is a solid two-way player that has experienced an offensive resurgence after a long dry spell while Treais is one of the most skilled talents on the team, and with more capable linemates than he's been afforded all year (plus less responsibility as a winger than he had as a center) he could be a breakout performer this weekend. And he hasn't been that bad as a center, with nine goals and 12 assists.
That's all good news, but there is some bad news: junior defender Brandon Burlon - first among U-M's blue liners with a plus/minus of plus-14 - did not accompany his teammates to St. Louis. Burlon had strep throat a week ago and had a severe reaction to the antibiotics. He's lost a significant amount of weight and has been unable to practice with the team. At best, he might be able to return if this team advances to the Frozen Four April 7-9.
With Burlon out, Michigan will once again rely on freshman Kevin Clare. The rookie has played in 14 games this year and is plus-11 but he was seemingly the odd-man out late in the season, appearing in just three of the final 11 regular-season contests. He then sat out both games of a quarterfinal series against Bowling Green March 11-12 before Burlon's absence threw him back into the lineup last weekend for the CCHA semifinals and consolation game.
Clare did not play poorly, however.
"He did pretty well," Berenson said. "Even though we lost the game against Western, I can't tell you he was a factor. And then he got a little better on Saturday."
When Michigan began the year, its roster featured eight defenders and Berenson wondered how he would split time to get them all involved. Today, he has access to just six - the minimum needed to field three pairings - with Burlon out and Tristin Llewellyn booted from the team months ago.
"That's what happens. I wish we still had eight but that's what happens. You never have enough defensemen," he said.