It was Oct. 23, and Messa Rink erupted in shouts of discouragement and boos of disapproval as the Michigan hockey team’s lineup was announced. Wooden bleachers were packed with Union faithful, all united in their hostility toward that night’s villain: the Wolverines.
For Michigan, the voyage to upstate New York was its first road trip of the season.
For the freshmen, it was their first trip to enemy territory in their collegiate careers.
Now seven games into the season, the 12th-ranked Wolverines — and specifically their freshmen — are tasked with stealing two wins from No. 10 Boston University on away ice, in an environment that will likely make the reception at Union look like a warm welcome.
Though some would expect road-game jitters, Michigan’s young talent is embracing the obstacle ahead of them with enthusiasm.
“Sometimes it’s good to be the bad guy,” said freshman forward Cooper Marody. “You just have to embrace it. When they’re booing, and they’re silent when you score, you kind of shut them up. So it’s good for us to go on the road and win games, and we like doing it.”
Added freshman defenseman Joseph Cecconi: “Boston is going to be good competition, probably a little better than the teams we played so far. And I think all of our freshmen are looking forward to having our first big test.”
The young Wolverines’ eagerness to face top opponents away from home stems slightly from their experience in Union’s intimidating rink, but primarily from their respective paths that led them to Michigan.
Marody, Cecconi and freshman forward Kyle Connor all spent time in the United States Hockey League. As they traveled to different venues in small cities such as Dubuque and Sioux Falls, they encountered hotbeds of passionate fans who would pound on the glass.
Freshman defenseman Nicholas Boka and freshman forward Brendan Warren, on the other hand, had experience that prepared them even more for the clash with the Terriers.
As members of the United States National Team Development Program, the duo had the opportunity to scrimmage college teams — one of which was Boston University just last year.
While their collegiate and junior league experience in hostile environments can’t compare to the 6,150-seat Agganis Arena they will face on Saturday, the freshmen feel capable of continuing to make an impact against ranked opponents.
Connor and Marody lead the team in scoring with nine points each, while Warren trails the duo with eight points. The trio is playing well on both ends of the ice too, as they are all plus-3 through seven games.
In the defensive zone, Cecconi and Boka have played every game for the Wolverines, earning praise from sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski for the physicality they brought to the ice.
To have success against the Terriers, Michigan will need its freshmen to play without intimidation and replicate the success they have had through seven games.
Michigan coach Red Berenson is confident that his rookies can rise to the occasion.
“I think they will (perform at the same level they have been),” Berenson said. “I think they feel part of the team, and they just play hard like we do every night, no matter who we play against. But the freshmen don’t seem to be fazed by anything.”
Agganis Arena will be a sea of red and white on Friday, but don’t expect the freshmen to be shaken up or to shrink under the pressure. The Wolverines will look forward to being the villains in what could be their biggest game of the year.