Fresh off a series against Ohio State that featured a win and a tie, the No. 7 Michigan hockey team won’t play any Big Ten games this week.
Instead, following two of their most dramatic games of the year, the Wolverines have their second and final exhibition of the season on the horizon.
Michigan and Ohio State combined for 24 goals, and the Wolverines recovered from three-goal and two-goal deficits Friday and Sunday, respectively. After Sunday’s match, a brawl broke out after the final buzzer to punctuate the showdown.
Now, Michigan will face the U-18 United States National Talent Development Program on Thursday for the 16th time in program history.
Though there aren’t any points up for grabs in the contest, there is something else worth taking the ice for.
“This is like a home game for them when they play a Division I team,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I don’t know if any Division I teams have come to play in their rink. But typically they play on the road. They know some of our players, and some of our players played in the program, so there’s some bragging rights going on.”
The Wolverines (5-1-2 Big Ten, 14-3-4 overall) have maintained the majority of those bragging rights — boasting a 13-2-0 all-time record — but will be short-handed for the matchup, partly due to the consequences that were handed down from the Big Ten following the postgame fiasco against Ohio State.
Sophomore defenseman Cutler Martin and sophomore forward Dexter Dancs will be unavailable as they serve part of their respective suspensions.
As for health scratches, junior defenseman Kevin Lohan will remain out as he recovers from a back injury, and sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski could be sidelined with “bruising” as well.
With the roster dwindling, Michigan will have to use every option in the depth chart — replacing Martin with sophomore defenseman Sam Piazza and slotting either sophomore forward Niko Porikos or junior forward Evan Allen in for Dancs.
Despite the currently depleted roster, the USNTDP will still have its hands full. No college program has been able to stifle the Wolverine offense, demonstrated by their nation-leading average of 4.86 goals per game.
Even more intimidating is the fact the Michigan’s first line is made up of three Hobey Baker candidates who have scored 16 goals in four games.
But that’s not to say the USNTDP doesn’t have talent of its own.
“If you think we’ve got one line that is really good — well they have one, too,” Berenson said. “Wait until you see (Kiefer) Bellows, (Clayton) Keller and (Joey) Anderson play. They’ll be giving our D fits, so this will be good.”
Five future Wolverines will also lace up to play the team they will be a part of next year.
The exhibition provides the quintet with a unique opportunity to get a taste of what it’s like to play at their future school and to make an impression, a feeling Michigan freshman forward Brendan Warren knows well.
“Last year, I was super excited to be able to play at my future school,” Warren said. “This year, it’s kind of cool playing against the program where I used to be. The Big Ten is kind of a gritty game. … The (USNTDP has) been playing together for two years, and they’re going to be a pretty well-oiled machine. It’s gonna be totally different playing against guys that are super structured and really skilled.”
It will be a low-stakes game for the Wolverines. A loss wouldn’t jeopardize their Pairwise ranking. A win won’t improve their résumé.
But pride is on the line, and Berenson doesn’t expect anything less than the typical production from his team.
“We’re going to play hard and fast, and there’s going to be some physicality,” Berenson said. “But we don’t want any nonsense, we don’t want any stupidity, we don’t want a penalty-filled game. We want it to be a real good hockey game. They’re a skilled team and they’re fast.”