Just when it looked like Milan Gajic had turned his season around, he took a sharp turn in the other direction. Michigan coach Red Berenson announced yesterday that he has suspended Gajic indefinitely for academic reasons. Berenson said the decision is partly a preventive measure.
“He would end up being ineligible if he keeps going in this direction, so I’m giving him a chance to get back on track,” Berenson said. “And if he does, he does and if he doesn’t, I’m not going to babysit him any longer. ”
Gajic, who notched 22 points last season, struggled to find his scoring touch early this season, but seemed to regain his confidence last weekend. He scored two goals against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 Team in an exhibition Friday night – his best performance of the year. Officially, he has registered just one point, an assist against North Dakota.
But Gajic had apparently been struggling off the ice as well. Berenson said Gajic’s trouble in the classroom had been going on for a while, and he felt it was time to take action.
“We’ve had meetings and we’ve had concerns, and I finally got some feedback from his teachers in terms of attendance, and handed-in assignments and participation and approximate grades, and it’s not good,” Berenson said, adding that he will meet with Gajic weekly to follow his progress.
When his coach informed him of the suspension, Gajic displayed a commitment to improve his academic situation.
“He said ‘I’ll get the work done,'” Berenson said. “So he knows what he should have been doing, and he hasn’t done it, or he hasn’t done it to anyone’s satisfaction.”
The news of the suspension is particularly harsh for a team that has suffered one loss after another this season. Neither sophomore forward Jason Ryznar (separated shoulder) nor junior defenseman Andy Burnes (mono) have returned to practice, and Ryznar’s shoulder injury is his second of the season.
Alternate captain John Shouneyia, who has yet to play an official game because of a fractured wrist, has skated in practice for almost two weeks, and Michigan hopes to have him in the lineup this weekend against Bowling Green.
The Wolverines learned of Gajic’s suspension before practice yesterday.
“It’s definitely a blow to our team and it sucks not to have one of our buddies in the lockerroom everyday, but we’re going to try to do whatever we can to get him back on the team and get his grades up,” captain Jed Ortmeyer said, adding that the Wolverines will “keep his spirits high, and try and keep him positive and keep him working at it.”
Berenson tried to be positive, saying that the suspension could be looked upon as an opportunity, but he also expressed his disappointment.
“It really bothers me to see a kid not take advantage of the academic opportunity, even though he might think he’s going to be a hockey player,” Berenson said. “You never know about hockey.”
The coach said he relayed that message to the Gajic, telling him, “Hey, your options are pretty slim here. If you don’t get your act together in school, you won’t have the opportunity to play for Michigan or go to school at Michigan. And then you end up going home and trying to get a job and trying to get your life together.
“In other words, this is important. This is a big turning point in your life.”