MiHockey Previews: Michigan Wolverines just keep reloading

The custom cover we designed for the Wolverines during our "Pride of the Mitten" cover contest.

By Michael Caples -

The Wolverines are annual contenders for both the Mason Cup and an NCAA national title. Will the final CCHA season be any different for Michigan? Doubtful.

Rewind

Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for the Wolverines this season – to say that last season ended too soon is putting it kindly. Michigan, holding the No. 2 overall spot in the NCAA Tournament, lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Cornell in their opening game of the national playoffs last March. The Wolverines also finished as runner-up in both the CCHA regular-season standings, and in the CCHA championship, where they lost to Western Michigan 3-2. The conclusion of the season saw departures by a strong senior class, along with junior Chris Brown leaving for the Coyotes. The Wolverines enjoyed the NHL Draft, however; incoming freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba was taken ninth overall, while Phil Di Giuseppe was picked 38th overall, and incoming freshman forward Boo Nieves was selected 59th overall. The club also experienced another summer de-commit, as Connor Carrick decided to head down M-14 to the Plymouth Whalers.

Bench Boss

One would assume that Red Berenson will retire someday. However, it doesn’t seem like the iconic coach is going anywhere soon. Berenson signed a three-year extension over the summer, keeping him behind the Wolverines’ bench until 2016. Nobody in Ann Arbor is complaining about the consistency in the coaching staff; Berenson has led U of M to 22 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. The two-time national champion coach has also gotten the Wolverines to 11 different Frozen Fours. When Berenson talks, people listen – and so do recruits.

Photo by Dave Reginek/DRW

Line Change

There will be a period of adjustment for Maize and Blue fans; some staples of the Wolverines’ roster have moved on to the next level. Shawn Hunwick, Greg Pateryn, Luke Glendening and David Wohlberg (all Michigan natives, as well) served as the veteran leadership for the Wolverines last year, and their absence will show early. Hunwick was the goaltender of record in all but two games last season, and the three aforementioned skaters were amongst the ice-time leaders for the Wolverines every game. However, as college athletics always go, fresh faces will emerge. Trouba, the Rochester native, U.S. NTDP alum, and now Winnipeg Jets prospect, could make for an immediate impact on the blue line. Trouba’s former teammate in the Red, White, and Blue, Jared Rutledge, is a highly-touted goaltending recruit, as is Nieves at the center spot.

Jon Merrill is expected to have a big season for the Wolverines (Dave Reginek/DRW)

If the water bottle is half full…

To borrow from one of the other teams on campus, “This is Michigan.” The Wolverines reload season after season, and this shouldn’t be any different. The club returns leading scorer Alex Guptill, along with new captain A.J. Treais, Lee Moffie, and Di Giuseppe. A full season for Jon Merrill – who decided against turning pro this summer – will remind people in Ann Arbor and beyond why he was a high draft pick by New Jersey. Trouba will become the steady presence on the blue line that might be missing right now from Pateryn’s departure. And while they were big losses to the roster, the Wolverines only lost five players from a team that was just a play away from making another run through the NCAA Tournament.

If the water bottle is half empty…

This could be the season where the goaltending de-commits finally catch up to the Wolverines. Hunwick will forever be remembered as a hero around Yost as he carried the program through the years where they were supposed to have Jack Campbell and John Gibson. Now, Berenson will be picking between junior Adam Janecyk, who has played in a grand total of six games (only one of which he started), redshirt sophomore Luke Dwyer (hasn’t played at all), Rutledge (freshman) and Steve Racine (another freshman). The selection is expected to be Rutledge, a Chicago native who spent the last two seasons with the NTDP. There is talent both at forward and at defense, but if the Wolverines can’t find a reliable goaltender, there could be some bumps in the road this season. The four graduated players served as the leaders of the team, as well – how will a new regime handle the pressure of leading Michigan hockey?

MVP

We’re expecting a big season out of Merrill. The Brighton native has had a tumultuous career at Michigan so far, but as he enters his junior season, hopefully he’s gotten the kinks worked out. If the half-season suspension didn’t wake him up, nothing will – but we’re banking on Merrill knowing he needs to both impress his coaching staff and the New Jersey Devils management at the same time this season. Don’t forget, Merrill put up 25 points as a freshman two seasons ago, and he was taken 38th overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. He should – and will – be a dominating force on the blue line for the Wolverines this season.

Phil Di Giuseppe should build upon his impressive freshman season (Dave Reginek/DRW)

Difference-maker

Di Giuseppe impressed in his first CCHA season; so much so that the Carolina Hurricanes picked him in the second round of the draft. The now-sophomore forward plays at both ends, too – he finished plus-23 as a freshman. Expect Di Giuseppe to build upon his 11 goals and 15 assists from a year ago, and be the decisive player in more than a few games for Michigan this season.

From the CCHA preseason synopsis:

MICHIGAN

Head Coach: Red Berenson (29th season)

2011-12 Overall Record: 24-13-4

2011-12 Conference Record: 15-9-4-1 (T-2nd)

Letterwinners Returning/Lost: Team – 20/5; Forwards – 11/3, Defense – 7/1, Goaltenders – 2/1

Key Returnees: Mac Bennett, D, JR (4-17-21); Alex Guptill, F, SO (16-17- 33); Jon Merrill, D, JR (2-9-11); Lee Moffie, D, SR (7-25-32); A.J. Treais, F, SR (15-17-32)

Key Losses: Chris Brown, F, (12-17-29); Luke Glendening, F, (10-11-21); Shawn Hunwick, G (24-12-3, 2.00 GAA, .932 Spct.); Greg Pateryn, D, (2-13- 15); David Wohlberg, F, (16-17-33)

NHL Draft Picks (11): Jacob Trouba (WPG ‘12); Phil Di Giuseppe (CAR ‘12); Boo Nieves (NYR ‘12); Brennan Serville (WPG ‘11); Alex Guptill (DAL ‘10); Zach Hyman (FLA ‘10); Jon Merrill (NJD ‘10); Lee Moffie (SJS ‘10); Luke Moffatt (COL‘10); Kevin Lynch (CBJ ‘09); Mac Bennett (MTL ’09)

Impact Freshmen: Boo Nieves, F, Indiana (USHL); Jared Rutledge, G, U.S. NTDP (USHL); Jacob Trouba, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL)

Noteworthy: The 2012-13 Wolverines return seven of its top 10 scorers and three of its top five.