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August 22, 2012TheWolverine.com caught up with U-M junior defenseman Jon Merrill today in his first interview since he made the decision to return to Michigan instead of going pro.
"It feels good to have this behind me," he told TheWolverine.com. "For a few weeks there, it was hectic, but it's in the past now and I'm looking forward to the season."
Merrill seriously contemplated signing a contract with the New Jersey Devils, which drafted him in the second round in 2010, but his heart was at Michigan.
"I didn't want to make a decision I would regret and it just felt right to come back," he said. "It means a lot to me to play for Michigan."
Merrill talks in-depth about his relationship with head coach Red Berenson, and how special it has become. Berenson could have given up on the Brighton, Mich., native a year ago when he was suspended due to an off-ice violation of team rules, but instead he became even more committed to Merrill and his future.
"The amazing thing about Coach Berenson is he cares more about you as a person than as a hockey player," Merrill said. "He wants to see you be the best you can be as a hockey player, and realize your goals, whether that's to be a pro or not.
"But it wouldn't matter to him if you were a walk-on that never played or the best player on the team, he cares about every guy equally and will be there for you and guide you to be the best you can be."
Merrill returned to the team in January and made an immediate contribution but his play tailed off in the postseason, and consistency over six months is an ambition of his, and a demand from the coaches.
"My focus is on just getting better every day because if you're not progressing and getting better then you're going backwards," said Merrill, who talked specifically about playing with more grittiness.
"When you watch the best defensemen, they're tough to play against. You want to be a shutdown guy. You can't give that forward any room and make his job easy for him. If you're in his face, in his body, he can't create, and he'll get frustrated, and that is something I really want to work on. I want guys to see me across the ice and want a shift change. I want them to not want the puck because they know if they have it I'll be on them."