Two of college hockey's most storied programs face off in season opener

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By Jeremy Summitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 9, 2013

When the Michigan hockey team hosts No. 4 Boston College on Thursday, the two most successful programs in college hockey will already know each other better than you’d expect.

Two seniors, defenseman Mac Bennett and forward Derek DeBlois, grew up just 75 miles away from Boston College. Bennett has played with or against the majority of the Eagles’ roster in youth games and national team tryouts. DeBlois’s two sisters and his mother attended Boston College.

“I converted them to Michigan fans,” DeBlois said.

His family will be in town for Thursday’s game, and while DeBlois grew up rooting for the Eagles, he says he knew Michigan was always the place for him. During Bennett’s recruitment, it came down to Boston College or Michigan. After the game, he’ll gain some insight into his decision.

“I want to make sure I chose the right place tomorrow,” Bennett said.

On opposite benches, Michigan coach Red Berenson and Boston College coach Jerry York have built a close relationship through coaching. The two are the winningest active coaches in college hockey — York has tallied 935 wins compared to Berenson’s 770.

They spoke Monday — as Berenson says, the “old guys” always have to stick together.

Dating back to before it was Berenson vs. York, the Wolverines lead the Eagles, 11-6, in the overall series. Neither team has ever lost at home.

The raucous atmosphere at Yost Ice Arena will be a crucial factor for both teams, especially with 10 freshmen on each side. Boston College and Michigan, in that order, are the youngest teams in the nation. The role of both teams’ large freshman classes could be a critical deciding factor.

For the Wolverines, both Berenson and Bennett have been pleased with the growth of the youngsters in practice this week.

“Me, personally, I’m playing with (defenseman Nolan) de Jong, and I love playing with him,” Bennett said. “He’s a really smart player, and he’s going to be a guy we’re probably going to look to.”

De Jong led the team with five shots in an exhibition loss to Waterloo (Ont.) this past Sunday. Fellow freshmen defensemen Michael Downing and Kevin Lohan also look to heavily contribute on an inexperienced blue line.

But the upcoming test against the Eagles will be a demanding one. Boston College returns forward Johnny Gaudreau, who led the nation with 1.46 points per game last year, while being named Hockey East Player of the Year. Among other accolades, he was honored as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.

“Whoever is covering him, just make sure you’re pressed the entire time,” Bennett said. “Whenever he touches the puck, someone needs to make sure he feels their presence. We just have to be all over him and shut him down.”

That’s easier said than done against a player who tallied 21 goals and 30 assists last season. But what Michigan isn’t lacking is confidence. After the exhibition loss, both Bennett and sophomore forward Andrew Copp said they would be well prepared for the Eagles.

Thursday’s matchup will be the first time Michigan has played a ranked opponent in a season opener since 2007, when the Wolverines topped the Eagles 4-3 in St. Paul, Minn. This will be Boston College’s first trip to Ann Arbor since 2005.

There’s more to a rivalry than location, and Thursday will pit two storied programs against one another in one of the biggest games of the season for both teams. DeBlois kept his feelings about the game extremely concise.

“We definitely have to beat these guys,” he said.

In hockey, friends become foes. At Yost, the opposition becomes hated enemies. Bragging rights between childhood buddies and two old friends are officially up for grabs.