Prior to his team's season-opening sweep against Mercyhurst, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson said his main worry was that the Lakers had already played four games, while the Wolverines had played only one exhibition.
Even though Michigan escaped the weekend unscathed, Berenson can’t use that logic any longer as the Wolverines travel to upstate New York for games against No. 18 Union (2-0-2) and RPI (1-3) on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“I like the fact that we came from behind,” Berenson said. “We’ll get a tougher test this weekend, but we got a couple of games under our belt. We have something to prove on the road. We weren’t very consistent last year.”
Winning the first two games already marks a change for the 11th-ranked Wolverines (2-0). They began last season with a loss to Ferris State and then split a series with New Hampshire.
The quicker start this year could be due to a much-improved defensive unit. Freshmen Nick Boka and Joseph Cecconi have looked capable of playing substantial minutes, while junior Nolan De Jong looks like a completely different player after extensive offseason workouts.
If the Mercyhurst series was any indication, it already appears that Berenson has found four lines capable of scoring each night. Seniors Justin Selman and Boo Nieves, along with freshman Kyle Connor, have formed an imposing first line that is capable of scoring a goal on any given shift. The trio tallied a combined eight points in the opening weekend.
“Playing with Kyle is super easy,” Nieves said. “He knows what to do out there. Justin and I have a lot of chemistry off the ice, which definitely translates on the ice. Kyle listens. He absorbs everything, and he’s been so easy to play with.”
Added Berenson: “I think they are establishing themselves as a line that can score and shut another team’s line down. I thought Boo was our best forward over the weekend, and Kyle Connor was our most dangerous.”
And once you deal with that line, juniors Alex Kile, JT Compher and Tyler Motte are no piece of cake, either. All are high-energy players who aggressively throw their bodies at open pucks, giving opposing units fits.
If that’s not enough, freshmen Cooper Marody and Brendan Warren played well beyond their years, combining for three points. The two youngsters are paired with sophomore Tony Calderone, who leads the team in shots with 11.
That’s three legitimate lines for Berenson to roll out, and juniors Evan Allen and Max Shuart — both fourth-line players — tallied a goal and an assist, respectively.
“We’re definitely deep this year,” Nieves said. “Everybody brings something unique which makes us tough to play against.”
But No. 18 Union — which defeated No. 8 Boston University earlier this year — and RPI, which beat No. 4 Boston College, present Michigan with a much tougher challenge. And the Wolverines know that.
“Every game is important, especially these non-conference ones,” Nieves said. “They’ve definitely kept us out of the tournament the last few years.
“We’re going in with a business-type mentality.”