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October 14, 2004 - Image 15

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-10-14

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8B - The Michigan Daily - Faceoff 2004 - Thursday, October 14, 2004

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Great Expectations
Jeff Tambeiini and T.J. Hensick have something to prove
By Gabe Edelson " Daily Sports Writer

's clear from Jeff Tambellini's words and the
inflection in his voice that he's eager to put last
sasonbehind him.
"I don't like to make excuses for anything,' the
junior forward said. "The way you play on the ice is
up to you."
After scoring 45 points to lead the team in his first
year in Ann Arbor, Tambellini suffered through a
much-publicized drop in production during his soph-
omore campaign - tallying just 27 points. But this
year, the newly minted alternate captain expects to
use his past difficulties to his advantage.
"I think you learn a lot when things don't always
go your way,' Tambellini'said. "You're not going to
walk through life and not have any obstacles in the
road. Good or bad, I try to learn from every experi"-
ence and take what I can."
Michigan coach Red Berenson doesn't like to
dwell on Tambellini's struggles either.
"I look for Jeff to have a real big year this year,"
Berenson said. "He's got the skill, he's got the speed
and he's got a great shot. I think every player grows
each year. Sometimes it shows up in the statistics,
and sometimes it doesn't.
"(Tambellini's) game is growing. He's physically
stronger. He's mentally stronger..He's more mature.
He's more confident. You never know when you're
ready to have your best game, but I think he's a lot
closer now than he was a year ago."
One year ago, T.J. Hensick was a highly-touted
incoming freshman. This time around, the forward
is Michigan's reigning scoring leader, with 46 points
last year, and he's quite a bit wiser.
"I learned to take each game as it comes, each
shift as it comes," Hensick said as he reflected on the
knowledge he gained from his first year as a Wolver-
ine. "You can't get frustrated when you have a bad
shift or a bad game. You can redeem yourself the
next night or the next weekend. I think I play the best
when I'm more relaxed."
Hensick surprised some observers last spring
when he decided against entering himself in the
NHL Draft. Such strong freshman numbers - good
enough to earn Hensick the 2003-04 CCHA Rookie
of the Year award - piqued the interest of pro scouts
and would have motivated most young skaters to dip
their toes into big-time waters.
"I thought I was a player who never fell back on
my progress," Hensick said. "I thought I had a good
freshman year, but I thought I could have a better
sophomore year. That was a huge factor in my deci-
sion not to enter the draft."
Nobody respected Hensick's choice more than his
coach.
"T.J. is a driven player," Berenson said. "The draft
wasn't a big thing for him one way or the other last
year. He said, I'd just as soon play another year.' Just
by doing that, he's saying, 'I know I can have a better
year this year.' "
Tambellini and Hensick are two players with
something to prove.
Will Tambellini regain the form that made him a
' first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings after
his stellar opening season at Michigan?
Will Hensick be able to build on an impressive
debut and avoid falling into a Tambellini-like sopho-

more slump?
Will either of these players - whose speed, vision
and knack for putting the puck in the net make fans
swoon over every slapshot, breakaway and nimble
cut - step up to become the "go-to-guy" for a high-
ly ranked Michigan team without an obvious lead
lamp-lighter?
"We're not a proven offensive team," Berenson
said. "We only have one 20-goal scorer from last sea-
son, and that was (Brandon) Kaleniecki. Who's going
to score on this team? We need to be better than we
were last year. A lot of guys have to step up."
If Tambellini rises to the occasion, he will do so
in a more visible role. The 'A' on the junior's sweater

tions and limitless potential - they will also play
together on the same line. Berenson paired his shoot-
ing stars for the beginning and end of last season,
and the two developed a healthy familiarity with
each other.
"I think we complement each other well," Hen-
sick said. "He's got one of the best shots in college
hockey and a quick release. I like to look for him
to get the shot. I'm more of a playmaker. We're
both skilled players who like to use each other and
have fun out there."
Tambellini believes the pair's chemistry has
become more intuitive as the players have gotten
used to one another's tendencies.

around, he pushed himself hard over the long break
to improve his conditioning and focus.
"I just paid attention to getting my body to a point
where I could handle a long season at a high pace"
Tambellini said. "(The offseason) is always a time
to get bigger, stronger and faster. (But) the draft did
provide a lot of distractions. You don't have the sum-
mer to do your own thing. I couldn't get down to the
weight room for off-ice training."
Luckily for Hensick, he did not have the kind
of hectic schedule Tambellini was faced with fol-
lowing his selection in the draft. By excluding
his name from consideration, Hensick was able
to focus solely on having an even better year at
Michigan in his second go-round. Tambellini
also believes the return of most of the squad will
facilitate Hensick's growth and acclimation to his
role as a point-earner. By comparison, Tambellini
entered his sophomore season without high-scor-
ing leaders Jed Ortmeyer, John Shouneyia and
Mark Mink - three players who graduated after
Tambellini's first year - as well as promising
defenseman Danny Richmond, who left the pro-
gram after just one season.
"I think it's good for (Hensick) this year that
he's not losing too many linemates," Tambel-
lini said. "It will be easy for him to jump right
back in. That's a luxury I wish I'd had after
my freshman year."
Hensick's transition into his sophomore
season will also be aided by Tambellini's tute-
lage last year.
"(Jeff) paved the way for me," Hensick said. "He
talked to me when things were going good and when
things were going bad. He was a good mentor. I (look
at) the way he conducts himself both on and off the
ice. He's a classy guy, and his work ethic is amazing.
He's one of the last to leave the locker room and one
of the first to get there."
If the first few games of the year are any indica-
tion, Tambellini and Hensick will both have stellar
seasons. Tambellini currently leads the Wolverines
in points with four (all assists) after just two games,
while Hensick - who had a hat trick in the Blue/
White Intrasquad game in the preseason - has
accumulated two assists thus far.
Tambellini's effort and maturation have not gone
unnoticed. Senior forward Milan Gajic, who leads
the team with three goals, is impressed with the
junior's development from last year.
"He's a great player," Gajic said. "I don't think
he feels the pressure of putting the puck in the net
like he used to. He looks a lot more calm out there.
He used to fire the puck any time he had it. Now, he
holds it a split second longer to see if there's any-
thing, and if there's not, he shoots it. It makes him
more of an all-around threat."
Still, both Tambellini and Hensick will have to
prove to their coaches, teammates and fans that they
can maintain a high level of performance over the
course of an entire season. Berenson, for one, isn't
yet convinced.
"You expect your so-called 'best players' to be
your best players," Berenson said. "Every player on
our team has to get better between now and the end
of the year."
Tambellini and Hensick included.

Sophomore t.J. Hiensick, left, and junior Jeff Tambellilni.
has given him a tangible mark of leadership on this
senior-laden team.
"I think anytime you're given an 'A' or a 'C,' you
have to bear down and take a big leadership role,"
Tambellini said. "It's an honor to wear a letter at the
University of Michigan. It's a big role, but I'm excited
to take part in it."
On the other hand, Hensick is entering the season
with a fresh outlook and humble expectations for his
own performance.
"1 think my offense is going to take care of itself
if I work hard," Hensick said. "(The fans) are going
to expect me to go out and put up numbers like I did
last year. If that happens, it happens."
From the season's outset, Tambellini and Hensick
will have more in common than just high expecta-

"We can see each other and find each other even
when we're not looking," Tambellini said. "Once
you get to the point when you know where they're
going to be, it's easy to play out there."
Despite the pair's astronomical level of talent,
Berenson would still like to see some improvement
in certain areas.
"I think both Hensick and Tambellini will be
fighting for consistency," Berenson said. "They're
both good players. The question is, 'Can I play better
every night?'"
Due to draft camps and other obligations stem-
ming from his decision to test the pro ranks, Tambel-
lini was forced to neglect certain areas of his normal
offseason regimen after his freshman year. This time

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