Not even a full week after Michigan's 2012 hockey season came to its proper conclusion, the first major hit to the program's prospects for next season has occurred as junior forward Chris Brown has signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Phoenix Coyotes, voiding his final year with the Maize and Blue ...
The 6-2, 194-pound Brown was a second-round selection of the Coyotes in the 2009 NHL Draft (the No. 36 overall pick).
"It was a really difficult decision," Brown told TheWolverine.com Thursday. "The pros and cons list was probably 100 deep on both sides. The thing that outweighed everything is it's my second dream that I've had since I was a little kid. My first one was to play at Michigan, and I did that, and my second one was to play in the National Hockey League. I have the opportunity to do that with Phoenix so I'm jumping at it.
"I know I'm ready, they think I'm ready. The biggest thing for me was timing and the opportunity to go for it."
Brown will not join the Coyotes' roster in the final few weeks of the season but believes he has an outstanding chance to land with Phoenix as a rookie in 2012-13.
"I have a really good shot of making the Coyotes team next year," he said. "That's something my family and I talked about with other people, and with that advice from some respected people it's pretty hard not to go for that opportunity and try to fulfill that dream."
This past season, jumping between right wing on the first and second lines, Brown had 12 goals and 17 assists for the Maize and Blue. In 125 games over his three seasons, he scored 34 goals and had 46 helpers.
He will be the 20th U-M skater or goalie since 2000 to depart before exhausting four years of eligibility.
"We are disappointed in Chris' decision to leave Michigan and not graduate with his class," head coach Red Berenson said.
Brown met with Berenson earlier this week, giving him the courtesy that so many of those other 19 did not.
"My decision still hadn't been made at that point and I wanted to hear what they thought, get their advice, seek their support," Brown said. "Coach didn't think this was the right move for me, but he also said whatever decision I made he'd give me his blessing and wish me luck.
"It means a lot to me that Coach is behind me. He might be disappointed but to have his support and the rest of the staff and my teammates' support means a lot to me.
"I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss the student section, the band, the greatest college hockey atmosphere. I'm going to miss all those things, but the timing ... timing is the key word. I feel like it's my time. This is my dream. There will be things I miss, but it's time for a new chapter in my life."
Commentary from TheWolverine.com:
Certainly, this is a big loss for the Wolverines. With the natural departures of seniors David Wohlberg and Luke Glendening, and now with Brown, U-M loses three of its top-six forwards from last season. Players that contributed 38 goals and 45 assists this past year. Brown had 12 of those goals and 17 helpers, but his best was yet to come.
In hundreds of conversations with Berenson over the past decade, Berenson always talks about the expectations for his seniors, noting how much of a maturation jump they make both in terms of leadership and on-ice performance between their junior and senior campaigns (go back through the history books and you'll see ample evidence also). He was expecting that same jump out of Brown, looking for the Flower Mound, Texas, native to put together his most consistent season yet. A potential 20-goal, 25-assist campaign in which he emerged U-M's top two-way forward.
This team was also counting on Brown to be a leader and to score in bunches as U-M looks to become a stronger offensive team next year, both in 5-on-5 situations and for an anemic power play that finished the season converting just 14.8 percent of its chances. Now, the Wolverines will have to hope either a freshman can earn a spot on the top two lines or see an underclassman like sophomore Luke Moffatt or freshman Zach Hyman raise his game considerably.
Michigan hockey will survive. It always does, but Brown would have been a critical piece of the puzzle next season and would have helped to ensure the Maize and Blue's NCAA Tournament streak, now at 22 straight seasons, was extended. Filling his skates will be just as important as filling those of Wohlberg and Glendening, and maybe more because U-M didn't see this one coming.
In other hockey news, fifth-year senior goalie Shawn Hunwick signed and suited up last night with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Hunwick was an emergency fill-in for the Blue Jackets, occupying the backup role, after an unexpected injury to starter Steve Mason in an early-morning skate.
Today Hunwick signed one-year contract to stay on with the club through the end of the season.
Senior defenseman Greg Pateryn, meanwhile, signed a two-year contract with the Montreal Canadiens this week, though he will stay in school and the deal will begin next season. The 6-3, 216-pound defender was originally a Toronto Maple Leafs 2008 NHL Draft pick but his rights were traded to the Canadiens shortly thereafter.
Forward David Wohlberg inked a amateur tryout with the Albany Devils on Monday and has appeared in one game as the Devils make their AHL playoff push. The 6-1, 203-pound Wohlberg was a New Jersey Devils' sixth-round selection in 2008.