Michigan completes near-sweep of Big Ten awards
Michigan took home six Big Ten hockey awards Monday afternoon, led by star freshman forward Kyle Connor as Player of the Year.
“It’s a great accomplishment and I’m really honored,” Connor said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The nod is an indication that the quiet left-winger has separated himself among Michigan’s stars in the Hobey Baker race. After posting 61 points in 34 games, he is considered by many voters to be the frontrunner. Boston University’s Jack Eichel won the Hobey in his first season with near-identical points per game numbers last year, but freshmen have only won the award twice and never in back-to-back seasons.
The accolades didn’t stop there. In a perhaps more impressive honor, the CCM line — composed of Connor and junior forwards Tyler Motte and JT Compher — swept the first-team All-Big Ten awards.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said it was the first time he could remember that happening.
“We’ve had some great lines — and maybe some that could’ve or should’ve (swept the first team selections) — but this one did,” Berenson said.
The CCM line has been the most dominant in college hockey this season. Connor, Compher and Motte rank first, third and fifth in the NCAA for points, respectively. The line began to jell after Christmas and never slowed down. Connor is in the midst of a 23-game point streak and Tyler Motte set a modern-day Michigan record with a 12-game goal streak.
“I think we’ve just become more vocal with each other as linemates,” Compher said. “It’s easier said than done to be all equal when you’re older or younger, freshman, junior, senior or whatever it is, but I think we’ve actually done a really good job of being open to suggestions.”
Sophomore defender Zach Werenski was named Defensive Player of the Year and added to the All-Big Ten First Team. The 18-year-old recorded 51 blocked shots and 28 points. Werenski emboldened his case with six points in the last three games, bringing him from 15th to tied for fifth among all defenseman.
Berenson was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year — his third such honor in 32 years of coaching. Berenson previously won two coaching awards in the CCHA.
“As far as the coach award, that usually goes to the team that overachieves and does better than people expect,” Berenson said. “If we did, that’s a tribute to our players and our whole coaching staff — it’s no longer a one-man coaching job.”
Berenson is in the final year of his contract and undecided on his coaching future. Under his watch this season, the Wolverines are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
“I don’t get too carried away with these coaching awards,” Berenson said. “We’ve had years where I think we’ve done a great job coaching the team we had into overachieving, but we weren’t the Coach of the Year.
“Nowadays, I think its more a sign of respect and age.”
Senior forward Boo Nieves rounded out the awards, receiving the Big Ten sportsmanship honor.
In a down year for the Big Ten, Michigan shined this season. The Wolverines enter the Big Ten Tournament with a sure spot in the NCAA Tournament, the highest-scoring team offense in more than a decade and three viable Hobey Baker candidates.
The true rewards — a Big Ten or NCAA Tournament title — are still to be had, but the announcements Monday afternoon gave an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable regular-season run Michigan strung together, and the individual heroics that made it possible.