For most of the season Devin Shore has captured the spotlight in the NCAA while Alex Guptill faded a bit. The tables were turned this week as Shore was, for the most part, stifled by the Providence Friars as the University of Maine Black Bears lost two straight senior weekend contests to one of their Hockey East Rivals.
As we near the end of the NCAA regular season, Michigan's two game set against the Ohio State Buckeyes proved to be a crucial matchup. Not only do both teams hate each other, they boast similar records, meaning that this series was all about playoff rankings, both nationally and in-conference.
With the stakes raised, Alex Guptill came out absolutely flying. After OSU's Nick Shilckey scored four minutes and 26 seconds into the first period the Buckeyes held the lead on the Wolverines, and it looked as though they would be heading into the dressing room up a goal. Alex Guptill decided that wasn't going to fly.
With 29 seconds left in the frame, he flew up the left wing, took a pass from JT Compher and tried to put a move on OSU's Curtis Gedig. The move didn't work out cleanly as Gedig, a senior, held his ground, but Guptill refused to let up. Using his momentum to keep the puck moving forward and Gedig sliding backward, he toe dragged the puck out of Gedig's skates at the last second and sent a quick snap shot past goaltender Matt Tomkins.
It wasn't your classic dangle-snipe beauty, but Guptill showed a lot of awareness and drive by staying on the puck and then finessing it out from between the defender's legs, from where he was able to use his quick release to surprise the goaltender. It was a big goal for Michigan, who had more shots in the period with nothing to show for it until the late goal.
Ohio State bounced right back, however, when Alex Szczechura scored halfway through the second period. Once again, it looked like Michigan was going to lose despite their efforts. They continued out-shooting the Buckeyes for the next two periods, but Matt Tomkins stood tall and kept his team in the lead. Late in the third period Guptill once again decided that this wasn't how his team was going to go.
As Alex Kile skated the puck up ice with Guptill and Evan Allen joining, a defender took himself out of position to hit him. Kile was absolutely blown up on the play (which looked like an elbow to the face), but his momentum was so strong that the puck slid towards the left corner. Allen won a quick battle along the boards and sent the puck cross ice to the slot, where Guptill ripped it on net. Tomkins came up with a big save but Guptill, again refusing to be denied, buried the rebound in tight. Despite his efforts, the Wolverines eventually fell in the shootout - but still earned a crucial point.
On top of his two goals, Alex Guptill fired seven shots on net and finished with a plus-2 rating.
In their second game of the home-and-home set, Guptill got one assist as the Wolverines beat Ohio State 4-3. Three minutes after David Gust scored to bring OSU within one goal, Guptill won a battle in the right corner and centered the puck to Cristoval Nieves, who fired the puck high and wide. The puck found its way back to the corner where Guptill once again came up with it. This time, he pivoted and sent a perfect pass to Derek Deblois in the slot for a one-timer goal. It was a good set-up and Guptill once again showed a lot of resolve in winning two puck battles one after the other to continue creating chances for his team. He finished the game with five shots on net and a plus-1 rating.
It's good to see Guptill dominating late in the season with five points in his last seven games. He's coming up big when it most counts for his team and he's proving himself once again as a go-to player for Michigan. His 12 shots on net in just two games over the weekend is also a great sign - he's not just being an opportunist and getting good bounces, he's driving the play forward and creating chances in high volume.
Guptill was awarded Big Ten Second Star of the Week honors for his play.
If he continues playing like this during the last four games of the season - against top competition in Michigan State and Minnesota - and through the playoffs, he'll solidify his place as one of the Stars prospects to keep an eye on. He's had his ups and downs; but adversity often leads to growth and it looks like he's finally starting to figure things out.
Shore had a bit of a quiet weekend. Not surprisingly, his lack of production led to two University of Maine losses against Providence.
In his first game against the Friars, Shore was held completely off the score sheet, and Providence skated to a 4-2 victory. He wasn't a non factor, however, as he took four shots and won 9 of 17 faceoffs.
The next night, Shore got back into the points column with an assist on Steven Swavely's third period goal. The goal started a final period push to tie the game and send it to overtime, but Shore and the Black Bears came up short and went home with a 3-2 loss. Devin Shore had another four shots and went 9 for 22 on faceoffs.
While he hasn't been as dominant recently as he was earlier in the season, Devin Shore is still consistently creating opportunities. He seems to take around four shots on goal per game no matter how many points he scores, which is good - he's always very involved in the offence and creating chances. Every player has those days when things just aren't going their way (think of Alex Chiasson's game against the Sabres before Jamie Benn's shot hit him), so all you can really ask is that they keep plugging away and doing their best to score.
While he boasts game-breaking skill, Shore's consistency in generating chances may be his best attribute. He probably won't be able to jump from the NCAA to the pros and continue scoring a point per game right off the bat, but the key is that he never disappears. It will take him some time, but if he keeps coming out and doing the same thing every night like he has in college, he should be able to make a good transition to the AHL and then hopefully to the NHL. Of course there aren't any guarantees, but a prospect who is in the mix every night is a much safer bet than one who will dominate a game and then disappear for four.