- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 4, 2013
Exactly 11 months ago, a sullen Michigan hockey team skated off the rink at Yost Ice Arena after suffering a 5-3 defeat. At the other end of the rink, current Wolverine freshmen Tyler Motte, JT Compher and Evan Allen were more than satisfied.
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The trio played for the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program last season before enrolling at Michigan, and combined for five points — Motte with two goals, Compher with two assists and Allen with one assist — in the NTDP’s victory over the Wolverines.
“With the national team, it’s one of the biggest games of the year,” Motte said. “You look forward to it all year.”
On Thursday, the scene will be very different. Motte, Compher and Allen will line up in maize and blue when No. 3 Michigan hosts their former team in an exhibition.
Looking back, Compher most vividly remembers a jam-packed crowd hovering over him last January. He got the starting nod that day since Yost would soon be his home arena, making the night that much more special.
“It’s a really exciting game for everyone,” Compher said. “Since we’re in Ann Arbor for two years (with the NTDP), a bunch of guys come see Michigan games, and for me it was a little more important.”
Since the NTDP plays locally at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, the high anticipation surrounding the game is somewhat expected. Motte went as far as saying the annual matchup is progressing into a rivalry, and Michigan coach Red Berenson has grown to appreciate it, too.
“We’ve got to play that program,” Berenson said. “It’s good for their program. It might not help us, necessarily, but it’s the right thing to do. That’s why we play them.”
But the game is an exhibition, and Berenson will use it as a chance to experiment with lines and give some upperclassmen a night off. Specifically, junior forward Derek DeBlois and senior defenseman Mac Bennett will be out of the lineup for the first time this season. According to Berenson, Bennett has some “bumps and bruises” after last weekend’s series sweep over Ohio State.
Filling in for Bennett, junior defenseman Brennan Serville will return to the ice for the first time since sustaining a head injury against Niagara on Nov. 22. Berenson also confirmed that junior Andrew Sinelli would be a mainstay on the blue line after the coach saw some positives in his game the past two weeks. Sinelli is typically a forward.
“I like his quickness,” Berenson said. “He’s a good skater, and he goes back to get the puck and he’ll win that race. He’ll take a hit to make a play, and he’s a defensive forward, so he’s got good defensive instincts in our zone.”
Thursday’s game will also be the first opportunity for many Michigan fans to see Dylan Larkin, a Wolverine commit for the 2014-15 season. He has tallied 22 points (14 goals and eight assists) in 23 games this year with the NTDP. Berenson cited his skating, spirit and strength on the puck as some of his most promising traits.
Even in an exhibition with multiple lineup changes, Michigan will still look to spoil Larkin’s night. Motte called last year’s loss an upset for the Wolverines and said a similar result this season would be “devastating.”
“Guys on this side are hungry for it,” Motte said. “For us, this year, I think it’s about more of keeping our momentum, not taking it lightly and moving forward into the rest of our season.”