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Special Teams Key Michigan Hockey's Resurgence

Michigan has found success from a revitalized power play unit

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Lowdown

If you've been watching Michigan hockey for awhile, you know the deal with their power play for the last six years.

It stunk. Despite a never ending stream of NHL caliber forwards their power play was never anything better than average.

How could a team with so much offensive talent never find consistency scoring with the man advantage? They tried almost everything to fix it. They changed players. Berenson took more control over special teams. Nothing

What they never changed was their strategy. With teams around college hockey adapting to new formations and personnel usage, Michigan remained the standard bearer for the umbrella power play.

Night after night the Wolverines would hit the ice with two defensemen and a forward high up near the blueline with two forwards low around the net.

It looked like this:


Umbrella 2

I hate the umbrella. The reason why I don't like this formation is because it plays against the strength of every team that Red Berenson has had at Michigan for the last 25 years. You're asking your skill forwards to create traffic in front of the goaltender while the puck is passed back and forth from the points. For the Wolverines, the sequence ended most of the time with harmless shots from long range.

It's generic, it's basic and easy to defend, especially when your opponent doesn't respect it and pressures heavier than they would against a good power play.

What Changed?

Why all of a sudden does Michigan find itself with with the 4th best power play in the country and 23 power play goals?

The change has come with Berenson's willingness to move from his preferred formation, the archaic umbrella to the flashy, high skill 1-3-1. This is something that Michigan experimented with last season but never implemented full-time.

It looks like this:


131 3

From The Half Boards

131 2


This is a strategy that requires skill from every player on the ice. Red Berenson has plenty of that at his disposal.

You have five positions. The point man is all alone in the middle and he has more options to move the puck than before. Passes can go to the left or right, or the shot can be taken if the lane is open to get the puck through the screen.

Two players play the half-boards. When the puck is at the point they move up to support the point man, when the puck is low they're quarterbacking the attack.

Lastly you have your slot attacker and the net presence. The slot player is looking for open space in front of the net for a shot and also supports the half-board players. The net presence creates traffic in front and can release if the penalty killers lose him.

What makes this unit very, very potent is that between Kyle Connor, JT Compher and Zach Werenski they have the hockey IQ to run the formation. It's not easy to do. Their passing has to be quicker and decisions have to be made fast. The results have been off the charts.

I think we're on to something here. They're at a 28% conversion rate this season. The best Michigan power play in the last 10 years finished with 25% and that was last season. No other team has cracked 20% since 2007 and that team featured Kevin Porter, Chad Kolarik, Aaron Palushaj and Max Pacioretty.