The Wolverine

October 2016

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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OCTOBER 2016 THE WOLVERINE 59 HOCKEY PREVIEW Max Shuart, fourth-liners at the end of last season, to take steps forward in their senior year. The coaches don't have to remind any of the players, especially the forwards, how many spots are open. Nick Pastujov is a 6-0, 202-pound freshman with good speed for his size. He had shoulder surgery last summer and the staff hopes he'll be ready for the start of the season. Niko Porikos, at 6-3 and 200 pounds, is a versatile forward who had a good summer and should see the ice more this season (17 games last year). He turned 23 in May, making him the oldest player on U-M's roster. Rounding out the forwards, junior Alex Talcott (eight career games) will continue to fight for ice time, as will several of the freshmen. James Sanchez is one of five freshmen to come out of the United States Na- tional Team Development Program (USNTDP), though none with the same fanfare as Lockwood. Late ad- ditions Steven Merl, Jake Slaker and Adam Winborg will provide depth. BLUE-LINE VETERANS Werenski, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American, and Downing signed professional contracts after leading U-M's defense in 2015-16. Werenski, the No. 8 overall pick in 2015, had 11 goals and 25 assists; Downing posted 17 assists and a plus-20 rating. A long list of players are ready to fill their skates, several with plenty of game experience. Senior Nolan De Jong and sopho- mores Nicholas Boka and Joe Cec- coni appeared in all 38 games last season; junior Cutler Martin played in 35. Boka was a sixth-round pick by the Minnesota Wild in 2015. He had 10 assists and a plus-17 rating last season. Brent Flahr, Minnesota's as- sistant GM, said Boka has the physi- cal tools to be an NHL defenseman. "When he plays his defensive role and manages the puck well, he can be a very effective player," Flahr said. "I know he wants to get points like all these kids do, but he needs to fo- cus on what he does best." De Jong was raw when he arrived at Michigan, but the mobile senior took a big jump last year and led all Big Ten defensemen with a plus-22 rating. He will anchor the defense this season and is a good bet to be named a captain. Two big-bodied freshmen out of the USNTDP, Luke Martin and Grif- fin Luce, will compete for ice time right away. Martin turned 18 this September and therefore wasn't el- igible for the 2016 NHL Draft. He is projected as a late first- or early second-round pick next year. Cutler Martin has 67 games of ex- perience. He moved to left wing for a few games last season but will stay on the blue line this year, at least to start. "He has made his mark on the team as a real physical, hustling de- fenseman," Berenson said. The coaches have also discussed shifting the versatile junior Sam Pi- azza to forward. Despite notching just six points in 16 games last season, he was one of U-M's most improved players according to Berenson and should see the ice often this year. After a promising sophomore sea- son, an early season knee injury lim- ited Kevin Lohan to two games last year. Berenson said he had a good summer and is at full strength. Freshman Christian Meike is a smart player who still needs to ac- climate to the college game. No matter who is on the ice, for- wards included, Berenson said there will be an emphasis on improved defense. "I can't tell you we will change any of our systems," the coach said. "We're not going to play a defensive trap like some teams like to do when they go into a shell. We're going to play Michigan hockey. "But we'll definitely have an em- phasis on being more responsible defensively." How would that look out on the ice? "Our defense would be gapping up on the forwards," Berenson said. "Our forwards would be back-check- ing on the other team when they get the puck. Everyone would be more alert in our zone. We'll have to pay the price — blocking shots, some desperation hockey." UNPROVEN BUT HUNGRY IN NET Berenson has had no issue start- ing a freshman in net. In 1990-91 he did it with Steve Shields, who held down the position for four years, and Berenson repeated the process with Marty Turco, Josh Blackburn and Al Montoya, though the latter left after three seasons. Since, the position has been shaky at times. Last season's top netminder, Steve Racine, graduated, and the position is up for grabs. Don't be surprised if freshman Jack LaFontaine, a third- round pick by the Carolina Hurri- canes, is given the first crack at it. "Jack is a very athletic goalie with great quickness side to side," Car- olina GM, Ron Francis said. "He doesn't just rely on his athleticism; he is also technically very sound." Berenson will also consider fresh- man Hayden Lavigne, a mature kid who has looked good in practice so Senior Nolan De Jong led all Big Ten defensemen with a plus-22 rating last season. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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