When it comes to college athletics, no matter how talented a recruit is, there is always uncertainty as to how well the skills will translate.
The Michigan hockey team was no stranger to that this preseason. The Wolverines brought in a freshman class of five — including first-round NHL draft picks in defenseman Cam York and forward Johnny Beecher — hoping to find some key contributors.
It takes more than one game to rid uncertainty. Regardless, Sunday’s exhibition win against Windsor shed some light on what the underclassman can bring to the program.
York, Beecher and defenseman Keaton Pehrson were the three freshmen who saw the ice in Sunday’s 8-2 victory — with forwards Eric Ciccolini and Nick Granowicz ruled healthy scratches — and all three notched tallies on the box score.
Of the three, York’s presence shined brightest. Six minutes into the second period, he received a quick pass near the left circle and delivered the puck past Lancer goaltender Jonathan Reinhart. That goal marked the first of his college career — one he’s thought about for a while.
“I’ve been dreaming of playing out there for a long time,” York said. “Just to have that opportunity to put it in the back of the net was a dream come true.”
Less than 10 minutes later, York was back in the spotlight. This time, though, he flashed more showmanship. Streaking down the right wing, York collected the puck and moved it through his legs with a creative ease before scoring his second goal of the night.
“In practice every now and then, I’ll get a pass that’s a little bit behind me and I’ll do that,” York said. “It’s just kind of an ‘in the moment’ type of thing. It worked out, so that’s pretty cool.”
Though Beecher and Pehrson didn’t show quite as much craft, they still made their names heard. In the final minute of the opening frame, Beecher strategically positioned himself in front of the crease, and a deflection off his foot led to Michigan’s second goal.
With all the energy and emotions built up leading into their first game, the Wolverines scrapped with opposing players after whistles were blown, a few times. Beecher got in the action at one point, after taking a hit near the boards. Though Michigan coach Mel Pearson hopes for more discipline out of those situations, the play proved Beecher is not afraid to get involved.
“Johnny got hit up high, but, again, you have to be able to take that,” Pearson said. “You have to turn the cheek and play hard and let the referees call the game. It’s a physical game and a physical sport and sometimes you don’t like getting bounced around a little bit, but you have to understand, we have to control that. Johnny’s a big strong guy, so he can handle himself. He’ll be fine.”
Pehrson had his moment in the middle of the second frame. Sophomore forward Luke Morgan sent the puck his way from the right to left circle, and Pehrson showed off his strength, rifling the puck past Reinhart.
The Lancers aren’t at the caliber of opponents Michigan will face here on out. They normally don’t compete in the NCAA, so it was easy for Pearson to give the newcomers substantial ice time. That said, he was pleased with their performances and is keen on keeping the freshmen involved. And if their adjustment to the college game continues to go smoothly, it could pay dividends moving forward.
“I’m not surprised they’ve got the skill, it’s just a matter of learning what it takes every night and how hard you have to play and how much quicker the pace is and stronger. And it’ll even go up a notch or two from tonight to the next game,” Pearson said. “But like I said, they’re good hockey players and you could tell that tonight.”