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October 1, 2013The Michigan hockey team begins play with an exhibition Sunday against Waterloo (4:30 p.m., Yost Ice Arena). Head coach Red Berenson met with the media to discuss some of his early impressions of the Wolverines in this News & Views.
News: Michigan's 10-man freshman class has acclimated well so far, but it's still too early for Berenson to have a feel for who will be a big-time contributor based on anything but their evaluations of the rookies from their recruitment.
Berenson: "I think they've all looked OK. At times they've had a little moment here but no one is out there standing on their head above the group. The good thing is the group is holding its own.
"We've tried to play experienced players with young players in the practices, and then we'll see when we get into the games where everyone fits.
"The defensemen have been good. Kevin Lohan we hadn't seen play much and it will be a challenge to him to see if he can step in and play at this speed, and if he can it will be real bonus for us. But [forwards] Tyler Motte and Alex Kile and J.T. Compher and Evan Allen have all played at a high level and should be ready."
Views: There was some talk of an all-freshman line over the summer, but in the first look at some of U-M's combinations Monday, Michigan had its rookie forwards paired with veterans, while defenders Michael Downing (with junior Brennan Serville), Nolan De Jong (with senior Mac Bennett) and Lohan (with senior Kevin Clare) were all working with an older player.
This is rookie class will make a substantial impact. There may not be a 20-goal scorer like Jeff Tambellini in 2003 but this class reminds me a bit of the 2008 haul that included Max Pacioretty, Aaron Palushaj, Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso and Matt Rust - five forwards that all scored at least 10 goals - while Chad Langlais and Kevin Quick (until he was kicked off the team) were regulars on the blue line.
That team had tremendous senior leadership, solid goaltending, and the infusion of youth helped lead U-M to first place CCHA regular-season and tournament titles, and a Frozen Four berth. It remains to be seen if all three elements will mirror the 2008 squad, but I like this group's potential.
News: Lohan is vying for a spot in the top six defensive corps, competing with juniors Mike Chiasson and Michael Szuma.
Berenson: "I like what I've seen from Downing and De Jong. They should fit easily in our top six and then it's a matter of whether Lohan fits in there. Serville should, and Bennett, and Clare. And then there is competition after that."
Views: While Downing and De Jong both spent the past few seasons playing in higher-level junior hockey, garnering the experience they need to step in right away, Lohan had only one year of elite-level hockey prior to arriving at Michigan, and is a bit rawer than his classmates.
However, the 6-5, 202-pounder has the size and physicality no other defender on the roster, besides maybe Clare (6-1, 195), possesses, and U-M could use that toughness on the blue line. Berenson has also always shown a willingness to play a rookie over a veteran if that older player hasn't developed into a key player because the freshman holds more potential and a better chance to mature.
If all else is equal between Lohan, Chiasson and Szuma, the freshman will get the first chance to play because of the promise he holds.
News: Junior forward Alex Guptill participated in team drills Monday for the first time since practice started, held out previously for an off-ice issue from the summer. Berenson said Guptill will likely be suspended for a game or two.
Berenson: "In the summer, I don't follow them around but we still have expectations. It's a program decision."
Views: This isn't Guptill's first incident. A year ago, he was left behind on a trip to Ferris State because of on-ice effort and attitude, and Berenson will not stand for insubordination nor will he accept it when his players conduct themselves off the ice in a manner detrimental to the program goals of academic, athletic and community success.
Guptill is a talent. He's led Michigan in scoring each of the past two seasons, netting 16 goals in his first year to earn CCHA Rookie of the Year honors, and another 16 goals last season. Losing him would be a big blow to a U-M offense that should be among the nation's best.
However, Berenson has shown repeatedly during his 30-year career that no one skater is above the expectations of the team, dismissing players when they break the rules. Two years ago, in fact, Michigan suspended its best player, defenseman Jon Merrill, for half a season for violating team rules. Guptill would be wise to learn from that, stay out of trouble and turn this situation around so he can be the player and person that he's capable of.