As a team already relying on mostly underclassmen, Michigan hockey is now without one of their most experienced players. Junior forward Eric Ciccolini is out for the year with a lower body injury.
Playing in the beginning of the Wolverines’ second game against Western Michigan, he injured his lower body in his second shift. Ciccolini gave Michigan the experience they lacked in big games. Scoring seven goals and five assists last season, his offensive presence is certain to be missed.
Yet this isn’t the first time Ciccolini will miss game action. During his freshman season, he sat the last eight games due to a shoulder injury. Ciccolini played 26 games with the injury but decided to undergo surgery by the end of the season. He still ended the campaign with 10 assists and one goal — not bad for a 19 year old fighting for game time against then-senior forwards Jake Slaker and Will Lockwood.
“He’s a junior we can count on,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He’s been through the grind and understands it.”
Ciccolini took three penalties against Lake Superior State. In their first game against Western Michigan, the Broncos tallied six penalties compared to the Wolverine’s three. An aggressive player, Ciccolini’s physical presence and hitting abilities bolstered Michigan’s skill set.
The Wolverines are already injury-prone. Freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich missed Saturday’s game against the Broncos and junior forward Johnny Beecher is out for two more weeks due to an upper body injury. Beecher provides a physical presence on the ice, something the team lacked last weekend. Still, the Wolverines depth was evident in Saturday’s matchup as they won in overtime even without three reliable players.
When Michigan enters an away stadium, it’s a new experience for the young players on the team. While the away band starts playing and the crowd jumps to their feet, the Wolverines’ fresh faces have to adjust. Last season, they played every game in an empty arena. Adapting to college hockey’s hostile environments will be crucial to a successful season.
Ciccolini was a great asset to help them with that.
“Everytime our sophomores go into a new building with fans it takes them a while to get going,” Pearson said. “They aren’t used to that. They haven’t experienced what half our team has.”
A season ending injury, especially so early on, is never easy. In Ciccolini’s absence, newcomers will have more of an opportunity to stake their claim. This may open spots for freshman forwards Mark Estapa and Dylan Duke, both of whose ice time has been limited so far.
Although new opportunities may arise, Ciccolini’s absence will be noticed. Whether it’s on the bench or in the locker room, the team are now without one of their veteran players.
“It’s super unfortunate for him,” sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo said. “We’re all sad and it’s really tough for him. We’re just trying to support him as much as possible.”
A valuable member of Wolverine’s offense, Ciccolini’s future’s still bright. The New York Rangers draft pick has been in this position before and recovered. If anyone has the mindset and experience to come back, it’s Ciccolini.
In Ciccolini, the Wolverines have lost a key component of their roster. With a hole to fill, they will need to find a replacement that brings a similar toolkit.