The game-winning goal was just the cherry on top for fifth-year forward Nolan Moyle.
On Friday against Western Michigan, the Broncos’ third period power-play goal tied the game and left the Wolverines searching for a spark — anything, to galvanize their presence. A back-and-forth race, momentum had shifted in Western’s favor. That is, until Moyle stepped in.
After an errant Broncos pass in their offensive zone midway through the third period, the defensive-minded Moyle scooped the puck, racing in on a breakaway. Picking his spot, Moyle snapped a wrister just below the blocker, pushing Michigan into the lead and eventually, the victory.
Moyle’s impact may not always dominate the statsheet; it was just his first goal of the season. But his leadership is never in doubt.
“Everything comes down to doing it on the ice,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “If you’re in business and you’re a guy that’s talking about driving revenue and you’re last on your sales team … no one’s going to respect you. But if you’re the top guy and you’re bringing other guys along and showing them how you’re driving the revenue … then you can build other people up.”
For Moyle, business is booming. And his currency?
Moyle’s inaugural goal of the season could not have come at a better time. Entering the season at a blistering 7-1-0, the Wolverines have thrived early. Their success is driven in part by Moyle’s lead-by-example style — a style which won’t always wow the crowds.
Moyle doesn’t always showcase the silkiest hands or the most wicked slap-shots. But for Michigan’s captain, when the phone rings, it’s his job to pick it up.
“It always falls on (the captains),” Naurato said. “… It falls on them to go out and execute it and improve it and and go and do their thing. (The coaches) are with the players a maximum amount of time per week and then they’re probably with each other way more.”
Those relationships and bonding moments are key. Per NCAA rules, players cannot spend more than four hours a day on the ice or 20 a week in practices run by coaches. Thus, Moyle’s position as a captain becomes even more integral. When the coaching staff isn’t around, that doesn’t mean the time for growth is over.
This is especially important since the Wolverines are the youngest team in the NCAA. Sporting 12 freshmen, Moyle’s value as a fifth-year player on the team compounds.
Michigan’s current position at No. 1 in the nation speaks to Moyle’s leadership of the young group, but also emphasizes how turbulent a long college hockey season can be. Some players, like sophomore forward Mackie Samoskevich, have been in this position before, yet they understand the importance that leadership can have.
“It’s nice having the leaders we have with Moyle and all the captains,” Samoskevich said. “They’re really good at controlling (the freshman) and how they think and how their talk is. We’re trying to not get ahead of ourselves and get above ourselves, so it’s just looking past it and focusing.”
Complacency kills teams vying for success. And as the Wolverines stare down four more road games against two of the top teams in the NCAA — Penn State and Notre Dame — Moyle’s leadership will become more important than ever.
That doesn’t change anything for Moyle though. Win or loss the game plan stays the same. As the captain said after Michigan’s only loss of the season — a 3-2 drop to Boston University — there is simplicity in victory.
“I think just stay positive,” Moyle said. “Don’t get too down. Don’t get too high. Just stay even keel and stick with it and hold each other accountable and go from there.”
Moyle’s five year career has seen some of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Despite that, he’s come out of every experience with more lessons and leadership than before.
Leadership that will be necessary for the Wolverines this season.