- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 26, 2013
Following its 3-1 loss to Notre Dame on Sunday in the CCHA Championship game that ended its 22-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances, the Michigan hockey team is already focusing on rebuilding its streak from one.
But two of the Wolverines’ top defensemen might throw a wrench in those plans. Freshman Jacob Trouba and junior Jon Merrill will decide in the upcoming weeks whether or not to leave Michigan and play in the NHL.
The Winnipeg Jets drafted Trouba in the first round this past summer, and Merrill was a second-round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 2010.
Michigan coach Red Berenson met with both players earlier in the week to weigh their options and he already has an inkling as to what Merrill might do.
“I’m leaning towards it’s going to be time for Jonny to move,” Berenson said. “I think (the Devils) have been really patient. They could have signed him after his first year.”
Merrill has certainly faced setbacks since his stellar freshman campaign when he immediately established himself as an impact player. There was discussion as to whether he would leave at the end of his sophomore year, or even in the middle of the season, following a lengthy half-season suspension for a violation of team rules.
It seems to be more of a toss up as to what Trouba — arguably the Wolverines’ best player — might do, though.
“What I feel and what I think is best for me is what I’ll do.” Trouba said. “There’s not really a wrong decision to make, but there’s definitely one that’s more beneficial.
“Being here has been probably one of the most fun years I’ve ever had playing hockey on and off the ice. This is a lot of fun and it’s a hard place to leave. Getting my education is something I want to do and another year towards that would be a big step.”
Berenson said he wouldn’t be surprised if Trouba does decide to stay in Ann Arbor, citing that a second year of college hockey could be exponentially beneficial for his growth and maturation.
The Wolverines have attributed their turnaround this season to the depth of the blue line. But with Trouba and Merrill’s uncertain statuses combined with the graduation of senior Lee Moffie, there are some question marks as to which current players can step up to fill the gap and assist the transition of the three incoming freshmen defensemen.
“If we lost Merrill, you don’t replace Jonny Merrill at the level he was playing,” Berenson said. “Kevin Clare should be able to step in and add to our top-5 (defensemen), and you know Mac Bennett should be ready to have his absolutely best year.”
BERENSON BACK: Berenson signed a three-year extension on his contract this summer to keep him on through the Wolverines’ 2015-16 campaign.
Though the veteran coach has expressed excitement at Michigan’s inaugural year in the newly-formed Big Ten hockey conference and a chance at redemption after finishing this past season below .500, there were times during the 2012-13 season when he questioned whether or not he should return to man the program.
“I want to do what’s best for the program,” Berenson said. “If this team wasn’t getting any better I would have thought about not coming back next year. I don’t want to get in the way of this program doing well.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The coaching staff has already started to lay plans for the non-conference portion of its schedule. Berenson is scheduling games with Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Nebraska-Omaha.
“I think we’re continuing to keep our competitive relationship open with schools like BU, BC and UNH,” Berenson said. “We want to play the best programs in the east and continue to do that.
There are currently no plans to schedule games with former CCHA teams such as Ferris State, Western Michigan or Notre Dame.