Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson said earlier this week he wanted to find out what kind of team he had after the Wolverines’ top three point scorers either graduated or signed with an NHL club.
If Sunday’s exhibition against Toronto was any indication, the wily veteran coach found out in a manner of seconds. Just 10 ticks into the game, senior forward Justin Selman took a pass from senior forward Boo Nieves and found twine for what he called the fastest goal he has ever scored.
“That’s one of those things that is a kiss of death,” Berenson said, “but tonight, it was good.”
The 13th-ranked Wolverines cruised from there, beating Toronto 8-1. Michigan dominated the Varsity Blues from the opening puck drop, outshooting them 21-3 in the first frame and 54-12 for the game.
“It’s a hard game to gauge,” Berenson said.
Michigan’s attack was dormant for a while, but sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski doubled the score with five minutes left in second period when he found a loose puck outside of the dot and sniped it past Toronto netminder Michael Nishi. That’s when the Wolverines started to run away.
Less than a minute after Werenski’s goal, junior defenseman Nolan De Jong blasted one from the blue line that Nishi never saw. And soon after that, freshman forward Brendan Warren lit the lamp with a rebound opportunity.
Junior forward JT Compher had a memorable start to his season, after a slow start last year, scoring two goals in the third period. He first blasted in a one-timer and then sniped another in with seven minutes remaining in the game.
“It’s nice for a lot of guys to get goals tonight,” Compher said. “Overall, we are happy with the amount of shots we had.”
Last season, Michigan’s defense was its Achilles’ heel. But with a more experienced unit, and the addition of freshmen Nicholas Boka and Joeseph Cecconi, it looked liked a completely different group. The defense often immediately cleared the puck along the boards when it entered the zone, something the coaching staff heavily preached prior to the season.
One of the bigger storylines heading into the season was how freshman forward Kyle Connor would adjust to the college game after dominating the United States Hockey League for three seasons. It didn’t take long to notice there wasn’t much of a transition.
Connor was often in the right place at the right time, had a few point-blank chances and seemingly always made the smart play.
“He showed flashes of his quickness, his fast release, and he could’ve had a couple of goals tonight as easy as not,” Berenson said. “I think he’ll do great.”
Added Selman, Connor’s line mate: “I think he jumped in and made an impact. He’s living up to his name so far and set up Boo and I really well.”
Junior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort got the start between the pipes after Berenson refused to name a starter earlier in the week. Berenson said Nagelvoort, senior Steve Racine and freshman Chad Catt would all see time. So after Nagelvoort stopped all three shots in the first period, Berenson opted to put senior Steve Racine in net for the second period and Catt for the third.
After the game, Berenson didn’t say who he’d start for the regular-season opener in two weeks.
Racine saw just five shots but let in a goal off a tricky redirection, while Catt made saves on each shot he faced. And with an offense that already looks like it has potential to be better than last year’s, Berenson has a reason to smile.