Last week, the Michigan hockey team sent five players to the United States National Junior Team Evaluation Camp in Plymouth, Mich. 

Freshman forwards Matty Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau and Brendan Brisson were newcomers, while sophomore forward Johnny Beecher and sophomore defenseman Cam York were part of the 2020 team.  If selected, players would represent the U.S. at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, which will take place in a bubble in Edmonton, Alberta from Dec. 25 to Jan. 5. 

Assistant coach Kris Mayotte accompanied the players as the National Junior Team’s assistant coach — his first year with that title, but his third with the program.  

At the outset, the 39 invited players were split up between two teams, white and blue, in order to simulate a real team environment. There were some trades made between the teams over the course of the five days, but for the most part players practiced and played with their assigned team for the entire week.  

With two practices or games most days, it was a demanding camp. But that was intentional. In order to reach the championship game, a team must play seven games in 11 days. The coaches needed to see which of the players would drop off and who could handle that level of intensity.

“It’s going to be important to make sure you have the right people around,” Mayotte said. “And guys that are going to be with each other almost 24/7 for a month. We want to make sure we have the right mix of team guys and the right mix of people to help us be successful.”

And, according to Mayotte, the Wolverines could keep up. He said they got better each day. 

“Each of the guys bring something specific to the table,” Mayotte said. “I thought they did a really good job of showing the staff what exactly makes them the highly thought of prospect that they are.”

York and Beecher have the added advantage of experience — by both having been to the evaluation camp last year and having played a year of college hockey. After playing a full season against older, bigger players, the two are back to having the advantage as two the oldest in the Junior Team pool.  

The Junior Team coaches and staff will continue to evaluate players from afar, and it’s expected the team will announce its roster in early December.  

Mayotte has the benefit of seeing the five Wolverines practice every day. He knows their strengths — and their weaknesses — more than probably any of the other players. While it won’t affect the decision-making process, Mayotte did find himself rooting for his players when he saw them on the ice. 

Michigan was one of the most represented schools at the camp only topped by Boston University, which had seven. 

“Anytime you can send players (to the evaluation camp) and have your players considered, you know they’re in the top 40 best for their age in the country,” Mayotte said. “You know that says a lot about the type of player and person that is coming (to Michigan), and that’s obviously exciting.”

Michigan coach Mel Pearson said that type of representation helps recruiting by showing the high caliber of player that chooses Michigan. 

With some of the top hockey players in the country all on the same rink, the game is a little faster, a little stronger and a little more competitive. Mayotte said the five players who were at the camp have brought that energy back with them and are using it to elevate the rest of the team. 

“I think it makes them better players (at Michigan) too,” Pearson said. “I really think it gives them an insight as to how good you have to be, how hard you have to work to make that change… Wherever you go, there’s going to be competition — not only before they got here, but this level, then the next level. Gotta compete, nobody’s gonna give you anything. You got to earn it.”

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