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Trading one 'M' for another: Investigating an unwritten chapter in the history of Michigan hockey

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 21, 2011

TORONTO — A musty smell permeates the home locker room in the “Barn on Bathurst Street,” the result of housing a junior-level hockey team for more than a half-century.

The first thing you notice is the last thing you’d expect.

In the center of the locker room at St. Michael's College School Arena lies a dark blue block ‘M.’ Seven feet above it and just beneath the low-lying ceiling, a pair of white L-shaped heating ducts converge in the center of the room. On both sides of the duct, names are scrawled in precise, capitalized black lettering.

Beside each name, a system tracks each player’s progress: one dot if drafted, three for playing in the NHL. Each name is followed by the university that the player attended.

Here, in the heart of hockey country, lies a true anomaly.

At St. Michael’s College School, a program renown for producing nearly 200 NHLers and 14 Hall of Famers, the names most prominent in the locker room are college players — those who spurned the money of professional hockey for an education.

For Canadian players, going to the OHL is the rule. St. Mike’s is the exception.

“They’ve always been known for sending people to college,” Michigan senior and 2007 St. Mike’s graduate Louie Caporusso said. “They take a lot of pride in that. I feel like people get a lot more respect in Toronto for going to St. Mike’s rather than the (OHL).”

And no program has benefited from St. Mike’s unique dedication to college hockey more than the Michigan hockey program. Six All-Americans and more than 25 players have made the trek from Toronto to Ann Arbor in the last 60 years.

The duct in the locker room at St. Mike's isn't just a heating vent — it’s an idyllic representation of the unwritten pipeline binding two hockey mainstays: St. Mike’s and Michigan.

Just around the corner in the St. Mike's locker room, a plaque sits at eye-level on the wall.

It’s the only plaque in the room dedicated to a single player. It’s for the son of St. Mike’s — the one who did it right.

That son is Andrew Cogliano.

Cogliano, a Toronto native, came to St. Mike’s in seventh grade and played for every possible St. Mike’s-affiliated team from the under-14 team to the Double Blues high school team to the Buzzers, an Ontario Provincial Junior ‘A’ team, until he left to become a Wolverine in 2005.

The plaque remembers him, and so does the duct. The plaque shows Cogliano at center ice at the “Barn on Bathurst Street,” and details the accomplishments of his last year as a Buzzer.

66 assists (St. Mike’s record)
102 points (St. Mike’s record)
6 — 3-goal games
1 — 4-goal game

But Cogliano is the program’s poster-child not because of these accomplishments, but what he did after St. Mike’s.

Though everyone in the land knew Cogliano would end up in the NHL — where he is today, as a fifth-year player for the Edmonton Oilers — he didn’t take the fast track.

He traded his light blue St. Mike's No. 7 sweater for No. 9 as a Wolverine, and never regretted it.

“Michigan was kind of the one team that I grew up watching,” Cogliano said Thursday. “The idea of going to college and playing there and going to school, it seemed like the right place to be.”

Cogliano was drafted 25th overall by Edmonton in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, but he made his way to Ann Arbor anyway.

“It gave me a chance to develop,” Cogliano said. “I didn’t rush in juniors or in college; I took my time. Playing for both schools got me ready in the sense of making me mature, growing up as a man and be ready for the professional life and the life of an NHL hockey player.”

Under Michigan coach Red Berenson’s watchful eye, Cogliano flourished at Michigan, earning more than a point per game in his two seasons. After his sophomore year, Cogliano punched his ticket to Edmonton.

But Berenson has no issue with Cogliano leaving after two years; he puts Cogliano in the same class as Jack Johnson — players who are just too good for college hockey.

Underneath the plaque hanging in the home locker room in Toronto, a nameplate reads: Andrew Cogliano, ‘Forever Double Blue.’

St. Mike’s blue, Michigan blue. Cogliano is the only current NHLer headlining the double-blue pipeline.

Louie Caporusso tried desperately to calm his nerves as he glanced around the locker room.

As he strapped on his pads before tryouts for the St. Mike’s under-14 hockey team, the Woodbridge, Ont.