- Max Collins/Daily
Like any other team, the Michigan hockey team has its unspoken rules — and this one has become a tradition. Freshmen defensemen must pay their dues, whether it’s getting the sauna ready after practice, carrying equipment off the ice, or recycling bottles in the locker room. But every defenseman, regardless of year, is responsible for one job — they have to protect the tape.
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This year’s lone freshman defender, Lee Moffie, is entrusted with making sure the team’s forwards don’t use the clear tape. The playful rivalry is just part of the tradition that contributes to the great camaraderie of this year’s defensive corps.
“They don’t let us use their clear tape before practice,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “I don’t know why. I think it’s pretty immature, if you ask me. They have their own ways of going about things.”
It’s a rivalry that lasts. Senior Scooter Vaughan was switched from defense to offense this season, and he said that he steals the tape just to frustrate his former unit.
Keeping the tape away from the forwards is just the beginning of the rivalry the two units have on and off the ice. Joking with each other and taking extra shots at forwards in practice are little ways the fraternity evokes itself.
The defense hangs out on and off the ice, on road trips, during team meals. The group of defenders even has its own line of lockers in the team’s dressing room, which they call “D-Row.”
“We went to that after a while,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said of the locker configuration. “We like that. All the defensemen, their conversations are hopefully about defense. But they’re sitting near the guy they’re playing with.”
The consensus among the group is that this is the best the blue liners have gotten along in the past four years. And that camaraderie has already led to results on the ice.
“Even when you’re not talking, the communicating before and the camaraderie really helps if you don’t have the chance to talk and be really blatant with what you want done,” sophomore defenseman Brandon Burlon said. “Knowing what the other guy is going to do makes it a lot easier.”
The defense, which includes seven returning players, will likely be a strength of a team that is much younger on offense.
“All eight defensemen need to be on the same page at all times,” senior captain Chris Summers said. “It is definitely a team game, like I’ve said before. If we’re on the same page and everyone is working, then everyone’s going to be having fun.”
There is no lack of camaraderie on D-Row, and the tale of the tape is entrenched as a defensive tradition.
“It might be the most simple thing in the world to just toss it to (a forward),” said Burlon, who, along with sophomore Greg Pateryn was in charge of the tape last season. “But you got to just shake your head and say ‘no.’ ”
Shades of the Past
As much as the members of D-Row pride themselves on their level of camaraderie, it’s not all about friendship and togetherness.
That sense of unity off the ice does separate this defensive group from many of Berenson’s past groups, but so does the possibility that this could be one of the best that he has coached.
On paper, that year’s this defensive unit looks like one of the deepest in Michigan hockey history. All Berenson asks for is a balance between sound defense and offensive contributions when opportunities present themselves.
“That’s what we’re looking at, ultimately — getting offensive support from the defensemen and still being really solid defensively,” Berenson said. “So that’s a challenge for the defensemen. I don’t want them getting trapped up the ice at the expense of hoping to get the puck on offense and leaving us outnumbered.”
Summers compared this unit to the team’s defense in 2006-07, from his freshman year. That group featured current Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson and Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick. But in some respects, this year’s unit is better than the group that included the eventual NHL regulars three years ago.
“There is probably better balance (this season) with four or five guys that could contribute offensively and score some goals,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said. “Whereas maybe that group Summers is talking about, we had two or three.”
The coaching staff’s emphasis on more of an offensive-minded defense comes after last season’s dismal output from the blue line.