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Notebook: Racine, freshmen standing out in first week of the season

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 15, 2013

Something the Michigan hockey team lacked last season was a true No. 1 goaltender. Thanks to an 8-1-1 record in his last 10 games last year, sophomore Steve Racine earned the starting job and hasn’t diverted much from the late-season rally.

In the Wolverines’ 7-4 win at Rochester Institute of Technology on Saturday, Racine posted a career-high 42 saves on 46 shots. Michigan coach Red Berenson said he was the best player on the ice that night.

Even though Racine had been named the starter in the weeks leading up to the season opener, Berenson didn’t know how long that would last. He went as far as saying Racine could be the top option for a week or for the entire season, but changes would arise if needed.

Senior defenseman Mac Bennett said the team has full confidence in Racine, but Berenson wasn’t so quick to place his goaltender on a pedestal.

“Obviously he’s got off to a good start, so good for him,” Berenson said. “I think that’s just a confidence builder. I don’t think you’re ever set unless he wins 10 games in a row, and you can say he can’t get any better than this.”

Racine came into last season recovering from hip surgery, which meant he wasn’t fully conditioned by the season opener. Because of the setback, Racine could hardly garner any momentum in the times he received the starting nod.

Racine says he worked harder than ever this summer to get back in shape and continue to get better. The early results are promising, and his process to get there hasn’t slowed down. Racine has already stayed after practice multiple times to work with goaltender coach Josh Blackburn on small changes he can make between the pipes.

“At the end of the year, he got some confidence and he got some momentum,” Berenson said. “He got established a little bit and had a better summer, and he’s coming back as a number one now. It’s his job to lose.”

FRESHMAN CLASS COMING TOGETHER: Michigan’s success will continue to depend on how well the 10-man freshman class progresses throughout the year. Multiple upperclassmen have mentioned that this freshman class is one of the most mature they have seen in their time at Michigan. Whether through maturity or raw talent, four of those freshmen have made their mark by registering at least one point in the first two regular-season games.

“The freshmen have been stepping into big roles early, and they’ve all been playing great hockey,” said senior forward Derek DeBlois.

Freshmen forwards Alex Kile and JT Compher have each seen time on the first line with DeBlois and sophomore Andrew Copp, gaining valuable experience from the two alternate captains.

“I like playing with them because they show great leadership, and they’re two of our better offensive players, I’d say,” Kile said. “It was an honor just to be recognized and put on their line.”

In the defensive zone, freshmen Mike Downing and Nolan de Jong have played significant roles on the penalty kill, allowing the opposition just an 18-percent conversion rate. Senior captain Mac Bennett has openly expressed how smart a player de Jong is, and that he really loves being paired with him on the blue line.

GUPTILL’S BACK : After missing the first two games due to a suspension for off-ice issues, junior forward Alex Guptill made his return to the lineup against RIT. With two assists — one coming in his first shift — his offensive presence was felt immediately.

“He’s a leader up front in terms of the points we need,” Bennett said. “In his first shift, he popped in an assist so that has to be huge for his confidence.”

Guptill was paired on the fourth line with freshman Evan Allen and junior Travis Lynch in what Berenson called a test to see if Guptill was conditioned enough to play at game speed. He was forced to miss over a week of preseason practice, too, because of the suspension.

But thanks to a number of special-teams situations, Guptill also received time on the first line with DeBlois and Copp, where he’ll likely play this weekend when Michigan visits New Hampshire.