In a little more than a week after its season came to an end with a 3-1 loss to Notre Dame in the CCHA finals March 24, the Michigan hockey team has hemorrhaged two of its top-three defensemen, losing Jon Merrill last week and Jacob Trouba Tuesday to NHL contracts.
Head coach Red Berenson was prepared for his two studs to forego their senior and sophomore years, respectively, but he was hopeful that Trouba would at least return.
"There was a lot of momentum built up from his season, and when we finished up on a pretty good note overall as a team, that was an obvious question -- what will happen with Trouba?" Berenson started.
"He gave me the impression that he really liked it here. He was comfortable, in his element, around good people, having fun, liked what he was doing in school and hockey, but he also knew there was an opportunity out there and at some point he would have to deal with it.
"I think right after our season he was learning towards staying here, but over the last week, whether it was a combination of Winnipeg or family, scouts, agents, you name it, the wheel turned and he made the decision to sign."
Though he is disappointed, Berenson knows that the 6-2, 195-pound Trouba, the ninth overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is also ready.
"I can't second-guess the kid. I told Winnipeg he's the real deal and he won't be out of place," Berenson said. "If he stayed at Michigan, it would have been another good year of growth for him, and he would have remained a top prospect a year from now. I told him that, but it was his decision."
Merrill and Trouba became the 21st and 22nd Wolverines since 2000 to leave school before exhausting their collegiate eligibility, and like Chris Brown last summer, the pair will leave gaping holes.
"When you lose two of your top three defensemen, you don't replace those players with freshmen," Berenson said.
"There are always questions about next year's team. This year, we thought we'd be deep on defense and we asked who would be our goalie and who would score, and who would pick up the size and physicality we lost in Chris Brown, [and seniors] Greg Pateryn, David Wohlberg and Luke Glendening.
"Next year's question will now be: who are our top-four defensemen going to be? Can the defense be as good as we need it to be? Our forwards should be good, and we have depth there. We have three freshman defensemen coming in and how ready they are will be key to our team. I don't know that any of them will make the impact that Jon Merrill and Jacob Trouba made as freshmen."
Michigan knows it can count on rising senior Mac Bennett and should receive improved performances from rising juniors Brennan Serville, Mike Chiasson and Mike Szuma. It is imperative that Kevin Clare, who missed 21 games this past season due to injury and discipline issues, has a great senior year.
"It's his time," Berenson said. "Everything has to line up in terms of his game, his practice habits, his schoolwork, his life and attitude away from the rink - everything has to be going in the right direction, and I'm confident it will be. I had a good conversation with him yesterday, and I think he's getting that feeling, that sense of urgency and responsibility because it's his senior year. He's starting to figure out that this is 'My time and my team.'"