Last time the No. 11 Michigan hockey team faced Union, it was 30 seconds away from losing.
But after a last-ditch shot by senior forward Justin Selman tied up the game 5-5, both teams left the ice battered and without a clear winner.
The Wolverines will return to the ice against the Dutchmen this weekend, and they will showcase a lineup that holds 11 freshmen — more than a third of their team.
Despite its young core, Michigan blanked Windsor, 2-0, this past Sunday in an exhibition, showcasing a rusty-but-solid performance. The matchup was an opportunity for the team to see where it stands before the season opener against Union.
“Personally, I liked how my defense looked in front of me,” said senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort. “I think we communicated really well. That was something we worked a lot on last year, and so far this year — like puck touches between me and them, and getting behind the net and stopping it, and making sure they’re picking it up at the right spot and I’m putting it in the right spot.
“I thought we did a really good job of that on Sunday. Obviously it wasn’t the best game we’ve ever played in our entire lives, right? I think it gave us some targets to work towards with this coming Friday.”
The game served as a debut for multiple freshmen, including forward Nick Pastujov — who scored the first goal of the game after just two minutes and 16 seconds — and forward Will Lockwood, who tallied the third most shots in the game with five, behind only junior forward Tony Calderone and Windsor’s Dylan Demmone.
Though the Wolverines performed well in Sunday’s exhibition, a different level of play will be expected this weekend. The Dutchmen have 21 returning players from last season, including senior forward Mike Vecchione, who leads the nation in career points with 113.
Michigan will be combatting a team with a lot of seniority, but not without some experience of its own. Nagelvoort started the exhibition Sunday as goalie and racked up time between the pipes last year before Steve Racine claimed the starting job. First-line forward Alex Kile and defenseman Nolan De Jong, both seniors, are also likely to be key leaders for the Wolverines as team captains. The second line features juniors Dexter Dancs and Tony Calderone in addition to sophomore Brendan Warren, all of whom were present for the last encounter with Union.
While this weekend provides an opportunity for the Wolverines to condition their freshmen and start their season off on the right foot, it also holds importance for a reason bigger than hockey. Former Wolverine hockey player Scott Matzka (1996-2000), who was diagnosed with ALS two years ago, will be dropping the puck for Saturday’s ALS Awareness game.
“Everyone around the country has had ALS ice bucket challenges, we’ve all been through that, but it hits closer to home when you know someone who’s been affected,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “This is our second player since I have been here that’s been affected by it, and their families, friends, teammates and classmates.
“It’s amazing how the Michigan hockey family has come together when they found out about this. I remember the 1964 national championship team was here two weeks ago and they had their reunion, and they were talking about this player, Scott Matzka, and one of the players goes, ‘Well, we don’t really know him,’ and the other player said, ‘It doesn’t matter, he’s a Michigan hockey player, he’s a part of our family.’ That’s the way that everybody looks at it.”
That family now has 11 new members. Friday, they’ll officially join the rest of the group on the ice for the first time.