Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson opted to rest a number of his top players for Tuesday’s 7-3 exhibition win over the University of Windsor, but the decision not to sit one looks like it will haunt him.
Berenson confirmed Wednesday that junior defenseman Jon Merrill has a fractured seventh vertebrae. According to Berenson, the bone is cracked, not displaced, and will need to be immobilized “for weeks, for sure,” but that Merrill will return this season. Merrill watched Wednesday’s practice from the stands wearing a neck brace.
“I talked to (Windsor’s) coach before the game and I said both teams have a good game and there are no injuries,” Berenson said. “We just have to look forward and say ‘It’s unfortunate (but) it could have been worse.’ … Our whole team has to pick up the slack.”
Though Berenson didn’t get his pregame wish, Berenson did call the hit delivered on Merrill a “clean” one. On the play, Merrill possessed the puck a few feet from the boards, shielding it from the forechecker.
The hit on Merrill, combined with the space between him and the boards, allowed him to fall to the ice and then awkwardly collide with the end boards. Berenson said if it weren’t for the distance from the boards, it would have been a “simple” collision.
Berenson acknowledged that the injury will require some shifting of the defensive pairs. In practice, sophomore Brennan Serville will continue skating with senior captain Lee Moffie. Sophomore Kevin Clare will be paired with freshman Jacob Trouba. Junior Mac Bennett is joined on a pairing by sophomore Mike Chiasson.
“I think it’s an opportunity for Kevin Clare, for example, to play with Trouba in that role that (Merrill) played,” Berenson said. “Kevin Clare has been an improving player since day one and I think he’ll continue.”
Merrill is known for his significant contributions on the special-teams units, something Berenson noted must be replaced immediately, though the coach is confident in the new units.
“We’re going to move (senior forward A.J. Treais) back to the point,” Berenson said of the power-play unit. “I like both units. We worked on them a little bit again (Wednesday).”
This will be the second time that Merrill has missed significant time in the first half of the season. Last year, a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules benched the former United States National Team Development Program standout for the entire first half.
In the 19 games Merrill, a New Jersey Devils’ draft pick, did play last season, he recorded 11 points and a plus-11 plus/minus rating, which equaled his total from the year before.