It would have been hard to tell from watching the No. 11 Michigan hockey team’s exhibition game against Windsor that Nick Pastujov had been cleared for full-contact practice just last week.
The freshman forward wasted little time in making an impact on the ice, scoring what proved to be the winning goal in the first period of Michigan’s 2-0 victory on Sunday.
“It was a power-play goal, and it kinda came from a broken play,” Pastujov said Tuesday after practice. “Usually I’m not the one turning it up. (I went) up the ice trying to take a couple steps in to lure the defense. Made a pass to Tony (Calderone). I was expecting him to chip it in — that was what we practiced — and I didn’t expect him to pass it back, but he made just an unbelievable pass to get it back to me.
“I figured I might as well throw back in on net. Didn’t think it would go in, but it did.”
Things haven’t gone nearly as smoothly for Pastujov in the past few months overall. Shortly after finishing his final season with the U.S. National Team Development Program last spring, Pastujov underwent shoulder surgery to fix a recurring problem with his labrum.
The recovery process took six months, and Pastujov was unable to play any hockey for most of that time. In fact, Sunday was the first time he had played in a real game since finishing his time with the USNTDP.
It just so happened to be his first at Yost Ice Arena with his new team as well — something Pastujov admits caused a few early jitters.
“If you were watching me during warmups, I didn’t make one good pass,” Pastujov said. “So I think that was definitely when it hit me. In warmups, you’re thinking too much. But once the puck dropped, the game got going and you kinda lose everything and go into it.
“That was the first game back for me obviously, and I think that when you’re coming back from (an) injury, you’ve just gotta play confident. You can’t think about it. You’ve just gotta play as if it never happened. I think I did well with that. I was playing physical, it wasn’t bothering me at all, and I think I’m ready to go with the season.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson was more reserved in his evaluation of Pastujov, saying he thinks the freshman has a lot of catching up to do after his extended absence from the ice.
But Berenson still had high praise for Pastujov, calling him a “heady player.”
“I think he’s got good hands and he sees the ice well,” Berenson said. “That’s what I’ve seen so far. I haven’t seen the speed yet that we’re hoping to see, and the playmaking and defensive awareness. But I like what he does have. He has things you can’t teach. Just the vision on the ice — if a car is coming at you, and it’s all you see is that car and you don’t see the truck that’s passing it, when you’re jumping into the way of the truck, then you don’t have the vision that a smart player has. And I think he’s got that kind of vision, so that’s important.
“I think he expects to be a scorer. I don’t think he had the two years in the (USNTDP) that we anticipated. I think his best hockey is still ahead of him.”
With his vision and quick hands, Pastujov’s game seems to be a good fit for what the Wolverines need this year: new offensive contributors.
And since it’s so early in the season, there’s a good possibility Pastujov will be given every chance to catch up to the rest of his teammates and continue to build upon his game.