Forward matures over season
JAKE NAUGHTON/Herald photoThere?s something different about Michael Davies, teammateJohn Mitchell observed during a second-half of the season practice. Nothing outwardly changed about Davies. His haircut was thesame, short and spiked in front; his skates were laced the same, tight anddouble-knotted; and his deft stick-handling abilities were the same, capable ofdeking anyone.?But something was different. Mitchell was certain of it ?Davies had grown up. Only wanting to score goals, Davies would cheat in theoffensive zone ? the ?dark side? of offense as UW coach Mike Eaves said ?meaning when the play went the other way, the sophomore forward wouldreluctantly skate back. He was a forward, not a defender, he thought. What?s more, Davies wanted to score so bad he beganexpecting his teammates to get him the puck even though he wasn?t returning thefavor. And that proved frustrating at times for his teammates. ?If he just kind of lollygags out there, then he kind ofloses the respect of his teammates,? Mitchell said. ?Guys don?t really want towork hard for him.? The score-first philosophy ingrained in Davies’ head beganlosing its root after an early season benching, and it completely withered inthe final weeks of the regular season. ?He?s been coming to the rink with his lunchbox and reallyworking hard,? Mitchell said. No longer does he cheat in the offensive zone or fail to getback in the defensive zone. ?His game really thrives when he doesn?t just stand at theside of the net waiting for the puck to come to him but goes into the cornersand recovers it himself,? UW forward Ben Street said. ?He?s grown defensivelytoo. Before, he was kind of one of those guys you were a little bit nervousabout putting in key situations. Now he?s going to block shots and battlingalong the boards.?Part of the transformation process for Davies was justrealizing that by playing harder, he?d play more and get the puck more, whichin turn improves his offensive numbers. And while not big, standing 5-foot-9, Davies also realizedthat he could use his entire frame to his advantage. ?The thing about Michael is he?s putting two and twotogether. He?s not the biggest guy, but he can play physical and create aturnover and a scoring chance by running into somebody,? Eaves said. ?It waslike the voltage finally went on enough that we could see it, and he could seeit and buy into it.? An extra incentive to continue to give an upgraded effort isseven points in the final five regular season games. The reward is he has beenmoved up to the first line to play with Blake Geoffrion and Kyle Turris thisweekend. ?You can respond the shift after getting bench[CR1], or you canrespond night after night,? Street said. ?That?s how he?s going to besuccessful, and knowing that, that?s how he?s adapted.? One hole in Davies? game is that he?s still learning how tofinish. No one contends that his stick-handling abilities are deft, but most ofhis goals have come off[CR2]one-timers andwhile standing still, not after a series of moves. ?He?s got great hands and real good vision,? Street said.?He might be a bit of a playmaker and dangler before he is a finisher.? Not to worry ? Mitchell gives Davies plenty of grief aboutit. ?We might send him a message saying, ?Have you ever scored agoal that wasn?t right off the side of the net” Mitchell said. All the same, Davies came into the year, along with formerlinemate Ben Street as Wisconsin?s top returning goal-scorers. As it stands,they are again No. 1 and No. 2 ? Davies and Turris are tied with 11 goalsapiece ? on the team. ?He has always had that knack for finding the back of thenet. Goal scorers have that,? Mitchell said. ?It?s not how, but how many.?Davies said playing in the shadow of Turris and Geoffrionhas helped. Most teams have focused more of their attention on Wisconsin?s topoffensive prospects, allowing then second-liner Davies and Street more freedomwith the puck. Lining up alongside those two this weekend, Davis said, willnow shift the focus onto him. But with his teammates now fully on his side,he?s ready for the challenge.