Sunday, the Yost Ice Arena doors will swing open for the first time this season.
After a summer of NHL development camps and internships, the Michigan hockey team hosts Toronto in an exhibition.
“It’s our first game, so I know we’ll be excited,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “I hope we see the intensity of a real game. You play hockey all summer, and you get into summer habits. There’s no stopping and starting, no hitting, no break-out defense, so we want to start getting into some good habits.”
But a new season also brings high expectations.
The Big Ten coaches picked the Wolverines to win the conference in the league’s poll Monday. Junior forward JT Compher, sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski and freshman forward Kyle Connor were also named to the Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch list.
Werenski, one of four unanimous selections to the list, leads a defensive unit that returns all of its significant contributors. Two freshmen, Joseph Cecconi and Nicholas Boka, will be adding to the talent on the blue line. Both come in as highly touted recruits and 2015 NHL Draft picks.
“They’re younger, but they’re doing a good job taking everything in stride,” said sophomore defenseman Cutler Martin. “As soon as the games start to come, they’re going to learn a lot really fast, and they’re going to be an impact on our team.”
Connor, the reigning United States Hockey League Player of the Year, is among the most highly touted of those freshmen. Another summer NHL draft pick, he brings a wealth of talent to a team that lost its top three scorers from last season in Dylan Larkin, Andrew Copp and Zach Hyman.
On the other side of the ice, Toronto comes into the game after a mediocre 16-16 season. Led by coach Darren Lowe, the Varsity Blues travel across the border to face two NCAA teams in Bowling Green and Michigan, before heading back to Canada to start their season.
But in an exhibition, it won’t be the opponent that the Wolverines are worried about. It will be their own team.
“A lot of the older guys, we know our systems, but executing those to more of a tee is going to be important this year because obviously, we’ve come one goal short or one game short of the tournament the past couple years,” Martin said. “Making sure everything is spot on from the very beginning and working out those kinks against Toronto is going to be big because two weeks later when we play Mercyhurst, it’s going to be important that we have everything worked out.”