With the Michigan band playing in the background and the Children of Yost being their usual rowdy selves, the United States National Team Development Program trotted out five of the nation’s best upcoming talent.
Except this time, it was a little different. Instead of starting the usual line of Boston University commits Kiefer Bellows and Clayton Keller and Minnesota-Duluth commit Joey Anderson, USNDTP coach Danton Cole trotted out five future Michigan hockey players.
These players — forwards James Sanchez, Will Lockwood and Nick Pastujov and defensemen Luke Martin and Griffin Luce — represent five of the seven announced commits that will be playing in Ann Arbor next season.
“It was nice. They all play different positions, so all five could start,” Cole said. “It’s a big day for them, and they were excited. They played well, played strong.
“We have a lot of committed guys, and the guys are excited to play. It’s their first taste of playing in Yost and a college atmosphere. It’s always fun for them.”
For those five players, the game represents the first and probably last time they will be on the opposite side of the Children of Yost’s jeers. And for each player, the atmosphere is what brought many of them to Michigan.
“There’s a great atmosphere (at Yost),” Lockwood said. “We’ve played some college teams throughout the year, but nothing compares to this.”
Added Pastujov: “It’s a little insane, like the band is really overwhelming. They’re really, really loud. That was one of the best college atmospheres we’ve played at this year, if not the best, and it was tough when the crowd gets into it to bounce back to try to find a way back.”
All five players found their way to a maize and blue jersey in a different way. But for Lockwood and Pastujov, it was the family connections that sealed the deal for them.
Lockwood’s father, Joe, played for Michigan coach Red Berenson’s first recruiting class from 1984 to 1988. Lockwood, a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native, also grew up a Wolverine fan his whole life. Knowing Joe played at Michigan made his son want to play for Michigan from an early age.
Pastujov, who is from Bradenton, Fla., has been playing junior hockey in Michigan for five years, and playing in Ann Arbor was something that naturally piqued his interest. But he also has a family connection to the Wolverines — his grandfather attended Michigan.
“It didn’t take more than one visit to realize this is the place I want to go, and I didn’t need to see anywhere else to know that,” Pastujov said.
But even for an exhibition game, the game itself was chippy, something the USNTDP expected.
“Anytime you have two good hockey teams and guys on the ice battling and working hard, that’s part of the game,” Cole said. “It turned into a pretty good hockey, and everyone was fighting for ice and that’s what happens.”
For some of the future Wolverines especially, they gave their future teammates a nice, physical introduction of themselves.
Luce was ejected from the game for a high hit, and Pastujov was sent to the box early in the game for getting into a scuffle with junior forward Evan Allen.
“I wasn’t making any friends out there, but I think that’s all right,” Pastujov said. “They know it’s a game.”
With the annual game against the USNTDP now out of the way, the future Wolverines are already looking toward next year’s game. For now, the USNTDP players will go back to finishing off their exhibition schedules, donning the navy blue USA jerseys.
But next year, they’ll trade in those jerseys for the maize and blue.