Before the second half of its season officially gets underway, the No. 7 Michigan hockey team will get a chance to tune up in Friday’s exhibition contest against the U.S. National Team Development Program. But as the Wolverines return to the ice, the lineup they roll out will significantly differ.
To start, Michigan likely won’t have six of its top nine point-scorers available. Freshman forwards Gavin Brindley, Rutger McGroarty and Adam Fantilli, sophomore forward Dylan Duke, freshman defenseman Seamus Casey and sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes are returning from the World Junior Championship, and will likely rest Friday as a result.
Missing those six, the Wolverines’ line sheet will look vastly different than normal, giving Michigan coach Brandon Naurato a chance to experiment with combinations that he hasn’t tried before.
As Naurato tinkers with different pairings, he’ll get to play with a new cog: freshman defenseman Brendan Miles. Miles is yet to see any ice time this year due to the Wolverines having plenty of depth ahead of him, but the thinned-out roster means he will likely make his debut Friday.
While Michigan won’t have many of its stars on Friday, things are looking up on the injury front. Senior forward Eric Ciccolini is practicing in a full capacity for the first time since Golden Gophers forward Logan Cooley crunched him from behind Nov. 17, while junior defenseman Steven Holtz is now skating in a non-contact jersey — as he continues to recover from an illness — according to Sam Stockton of Gulo Gulo Hockey.
Meanwhile, freshman forward Frank Nazar III, who is yet to play after undergoing surgery for a lower body injury, is progressing in his recovery as well and may be able to make his Wolverine debut soon.
“There’s a goal of (Nazar) maybe in a couple weeks jumping on the ice, but I have no clue if he’s gonna be back or not,” Naurato told reporters Tuesday. “If it is, it’s a huge bonus. If Frankie does come back, he’ll be at 100%. For me, it’s the same reason you get the surgery, you think about their body, and he’s got 15-20 years of hockey, so just thinking about the kid.”
On the opposing bench, Michigan will get a chance to face off against a future Wolverine in NTDP forward Charlie Cerrato. Cerrato — who committed to Michigan in fall 2021 — has recorded 15 points in 29 games this season.
Between Cerrato, injury recoveries and line shuffling, there’s a lot to watch for in Friday’s exhibition. And even without six of their top players, the Wolverines will still have plenty to take away as they enter the second half of the season.