The Veteran: Dwight Helminen
Once the playoffs roll around, everyone wants to know who’s going to emerge as the big scorer. The Michigan Wolverines look to junior forward Dwight Helminen to fill that role.
After all, he did it last year.
Despite being named the CCHA’s best defensive forward this season, he also has 17 goals on the year — more than any other Wolverine coming into Friday’s semifinal against Northern Michigan.
The fast-skating, flashy forward puts on an offensive show during the Wolverine postseason. The junior forward from Brighton, Mich., posted three goals in the weekend against Nebraska-Omaha to help the Wolverines stave off the upset and travel to Joe Louis Arena for the Super Six.
Helminen also leads the team with two shorthanded tallies and scored four goals against Ohio State on January 10 — a power-play tally, a shorthander, and an even-strength goal. The last time a Michigan player scored a trio of goals in such a way was Jason Botterill in 1997. Helminen has four-multiple point games in a 29-point season.
“I think I’m a good skating, playmaking center who can play at both ends of the ice,” Helminen said. “I just want to go out there and make a statement as being one of the top two-way centers; being someone who goes out there and makes an impact every game.”
Even more intimidating for opponents of Michigan this postseason is his performance last year, which he looks well on his way to repeating. Helminen had six goals in seven games, including his first career hat trick against Ohio State in last year’s CCHA semifinal.
The Rookie: T.J. Hensick
It is said that the freshman year is a transition year, meant for adjusting to the pace of the college game. Halfway through the season, a freshman who gets regular playing time can expect to adjust.
And then there are those freshmen who start contributing as if they were born playing the game — like forward T.J. Hensick. Hensick leads the Wolverines in scoring with 12 goals and 32 assists in 40 games.
Not bad for a rookie.
Of course, for the majority of the season, Hensick has been on a line with last year’s outstanding freshman Jeff Tambellini, who is passing on leadership skills taught to him by another well-known Wolverine — former captain Jed Ortmeyer.
And after benefiting from such tutelage, the sophomore forward is more than willing to pass the knowledge onto linemate Hensick.
“Any time you see a young kid with that amount of talent, first of all, just to be able to play with him is a great thing,” said Tambellini. “He’s a great passer — he puts it on the tape and I hope I can finish, but I like to just try and be there for him.”
Hensick has flourished with the help his teammates have to offer, moving into a tie for first place in points among all rookies with his three-point performance in Friday’s semifinal against the Northern Michigan.
Knowing freshmen can contribute offensively is a big confidence-booster for the Wolverines going into the postseason, Tambellini said.
“It’s huge. They’re a big chunk of our team and we need them to contribute. This year, it’s a great group, and they’re doing a wonderful job — really stepping up and being able to play as we do and find a way to contribute.”
The freshman class, especially Hensick, will have to continue representing itself as well as they did over the course of the regular season for the Wolverines to continue, starting with their quest for the CCHA title Saturday evening in Detroit.