When Michigan’s hockey schedule was released in early June, it caused a lot of wide eyes.
With four games against NCAA Tournament teams from last season, along with four conference road games in the first four weeks, low hopes for the early season were understandable. Calling the opening stretch challenging would have been an understatement.
“When I saw it I was like, ‘Oh, boy, this could go one way or the other.’ ” junior goalie Billy Sauer said. “I was excited for the challenge, but as much as you’re excited, you’ve still got 12 freshman under your belt that you have to get excited.”
But as it heads into the second weekend of November, Michigan has already proven most of the doubters wrong with its 7-1 record.
After losing three players from last year’s team to NHL rosters, and three more who will skate in the league soon enough, why would anyone have expected this from Michigan?
For starters, there’s senior captain Kevin Porter.
Porter has been the epitome of a senior leader this season. His nation-leading eight goals don’t begin to tell how important his presence has been to this team.
“That’s your captain, he plays hard every shift,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “He’s leading this team by example. That’s what a captain should do.”
Porter plays more minutes than any other forward and for good reason. He’s proving to be one of the best two-way forward in the country. Along with his 11 points, there are countless examples of Porter backchecking, blocking shots or making crisp passes that go unaccounted for in the box score.
It’s well-documented that Porter came back to lead this team, but saying you want to be a leader and actually leading are very different things. Porter is doing both.
Then there’s the freshmen. All 12 of them.
Porter and his alternate captains, senior Chad Kolarik and junior Tim Miller, deserve credit for bringing the new Wolverines into the program and helping them produce right off the bat.
All six of Michigan’s first-year forwards have goals, and the four freshmen defensemen have played a crucial role in the team’s success. Two freshmen, Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso, scored in Saturday night’s 3-2 win over Nebraska-Omaha. A third first-year player, Chad Langlais, contributed two assists in the game.
The third pillar of this great start has been Sauer.
When the freshmen have made mistakes, Sauer has been there to cover them.
The junior has overcome inconsistency in his first two seasons to keep Michigan in every game this year, and Saturday night may have been his best effort.
“He’s been unbelievable all year,” Porter said. “He held us in the game. The way we played, they could have scored four goals in the second period.”
Instead, the Mavericks managed just two, and Sauer played a solid final period to complete the weekend sweep.
No one could have known how this team would gel before the season began. Not in June at least.
But by September, those in the know had a hunch things wouldn’t be too bad, even with a tough early schedule.
“After watching them on the ice early, they did lead us to believe that this team was capable of winning some hockey games,” Michigan assistant coach Billy Powers said.
But even Powers admits he didn’t expect the Wolverines to win seven of eight.
“It would be fair to say that you’d have to be more than pleased with that kind of a start,” Powers said.
Now that’s an understatement.