The Michigan Hockey team is hoping for a more satisfying ending to its 2021-2022 season.
The 2019 campaign ended abruptly when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the remainder of the college hockey season to be cancelled. In 2020, the Wolverines navigated through COVID protocols, empty arenas and a conference-only schedule — finishing with a 15-10-1 record and a two-seed in the NCAA tournament. But once again, Michigan’s season grinded to a halt as a positive COVID test forced the Wolverines to withdraw from the tournament just hours before their opening game.
Heading into this season, Michigan is ready for a return to normal and to have its home arena packed with fans, especially the Children of Yost — the raucous student section that gives the Wolverines a true home-ice advantage. With head coach Mel Pearson at the helm and a roster laden with NHL talent, Michigan could give the Children plenty to cheer about this year.
The Wolverines will look to be formidable on offense. After their top three scorers were freshmen last season, they will once again rely upon their younger players to carry the load. Their top scorer, forward Thomas Bordeleau, is set to return for his sophomore season. A second-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, Bordeleau burst onto the scene his freshman year with eight goals and 22 assists and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Michigan will also likely return forwards Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson, who are projected top-ten picks in the 2021 NHL draft.
The biggest strength of the Wolverines last season, however, was their defense, as they allowed just 1.96 goals per game — the best in the Big Ten. Michigan will have to overcome the loss of two key defensive cogs, defenseman Cam York and goaltender Strauss Mann, who both departed for the NHL. York won the Big Ten Defenseman of the Year award and Mann was a finalist for Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, after winning the award the season prior.
Despite its losses, Michigan has suitable replacements ready to step up and fill in the gaps. Goaltender Eric Portillo will become the full-time starter after seeing limited action as a freshman. His massive 6’6” frame makes him one of the tallest goaltenders in the country. The Wolverines will also add a highly touted prospect to their ranks — defenseman Luke Hughes. The potential first overall pick in the 2021 draft has an elite skillset that could instantly make him one of the best two-way players in college hockey. He’s also the younger brother of former Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes.
There is a heavy influx of talent all over the roster, and the Wolverines will try to translate it into on-ice success. Last season, Michigan was among the best teams in the Big Ten but struggled against Minnesota, which went on to win the Big Ten tournament.
This year, the Wolverines will want to bring home some hardware of their own. They’ll hope to win their first Big Ten Tournament Championship since 2016 and make the Frozen Four for the first time in four years. Michigan will lean on its young players again, and with a year of college experience under their belt, this team could be in for a special season.