In an exhibition game against No. 3 Michigan, United States forward Frank Nazar did what he does best: score.
Nazar’s two goals helped the National Team Development Program force overtime against the Wolverines. Nazar’s impact extended far beyond the box score, though, as his play on the ice showed Michigan just what he can bring to the program next season.
“You can tell he’s good around the net, patient with the puck, he knows what to do with it,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “… There wasn’t much not to like about the way he played.”
And the way Nazar played made his impact felt from the opening shift. Using his high-end speed, he crashed into the Wolverines’ passing lanes and broke up their zone entries. With that kind of resistance, Michigan became hesitant, hemmed in their own zone when Nazar’s line took the ice.
Creating abundant scoring opportunities, Nazar would eventually strike: after he and forward Isaac Howard sprung out of the neutral zone, Howard threw the puck toward the net and Nazar banked it off his stick toward the net. After bouncing off senior defenseman Jack Summers’s glove, the puck landed in the net and cheers erupted from Nazar’s family.
“We probably would’ve had a lot more (here) if the weather wasn’t too bad,” Nazar said. “Even my principal came from my old school.”
And Nazar made their braving the snow worthwhile. Less than a minute into the third period, he slipped the puck through senior goaltender Jack Leavy’s fivehole.
Facing his future team, Nazar skated in key roles for the NTDP. On the penalty kill, he used his stick to interrupt slow Michigan passes and carry the puck into the neutral zone. He turned those carry outs into almost instant offense, feeding shooters like forward Logan Cooley as they sprinted out of the zone.
That ability to use his teammates shined throughout Nazar’s game. He never hesitated to pass the puck, even in tough situations. With a chance for a hat trick, Nazar traded a breakaway for a two-man chance with forward Cutter Gauthier. Over-passing allowed Leavy to save a weak chance, but Nazar wasn’t fazed by his gaffe.
“I figured we’d have a better chance than just a breakaway,” Nazar said. “I heard (Gauthier) screaming and I was like ‘I’ll get him involved in the play.’ … It’s always about the win and the outcome for me, it’s not really too personal.”
But, some of Nazar’s mistakes helped Michigan change the outcome in its favor. He lost a faceoff to senior forward Jimmy Lambert, who played the puck to junior forward Jay Keranen for the game’s opening goal. He also often stayed stationary in his own end, waiting for the play to come to him without leaning on his quick strides.
Those are the kinds of mistakes, though, to be expected from a player who hasn’t even entered college yet. Nazar’s offensive knack showed just the player he can become for the Wolverines when he joins them next season.
“His speed is something that not a lot of guys have,” freshman forward Dylan Duke said. “He’s gonna be great for our team next year.”
This time around — in his first time ever at Yost Ice Arena — Nazar heard a small contingent of cheers from the stands.
When he plays for Michigan next season, that noise will only grow louder.