Three photos hang on one wall of the Michigan hockey team’s lounge. They are surrounded by NCAA Championship trophies, Brendan Morrison’s Hobey Baker Award and various other shrines dedicated to the Wolverines’ accomplishments over the years.
Pictures of Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik have hung proudly all season, and now Mark Mitera has taken his place as the most recent edition to the wall of captains, after junior Tim Miller lost his alternate captainship before the Great Lakes Invitational.
But like his picture, which hangs slightly askew from Porter’s and Kolarik’s, the junior has yet to completely fit in as the team’s new alternate captain.
“He had arrived,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said of Mitera’s mentality after becoming co-alternate captain. “You never arrive. You never get there. If you think you’ve got it made, you’ll be slipping backwards, or you won’t be as good as you were.”
One of the hardest working members of the Michigan hockey team, Mitera flew under the radar for the first half of the season, compiling some of the best defensive stats in the country.
The Wolverines’ opponents tallied just one even-strength goal when Mitera was on the ice in the first 20 games, a feat few noticed while Porter put up huge offensive numbers.
In fact, Mitera had never been in the limelight until he became alternate captain. Even though his defensive statistics were comparable with those of superstar Jack Johnson last season, Mitera’s efforts were largely overlooked, as he played in the shadow of the current Los Angeles King.
But it all changed once Berenson decided to give Mitera the ‘A.’ Suddenly, reporters were asking to speak with him after practice, drawing attention to the soft-spoken junior.
Now with five even-strength goals scored against him this year, Mitera was called out in a meeting between him and Berenson Saturday morning before the Wolverines’ pregame skate. Berenson and the Livonia native talked about his lack of consistency in the second half.
Mitera’s efforts during last Friday’s 3-3 tie with Northern Michigan could’ve been the reason for his meeting with Berenson. The Wildcats tallied an even-strength goal with Mitera on the ice, and the defenseman turned in a minus-one rating for the game, his first negative plus-minus performance all season. During Michigan’s current four-game winless streak, Mitera is even.
“I was playing rock solid the first half, up until the GLI,” Mitera said. “These past couple weekends I haven’t been as on top of my game.”
The meeting paid off Saturday night when Mitera noticeably ramped up the intensity. He also had his first positive plus-minus since Michigan’s 3-2 win over Notre Dame Jan. 18.
Berenson said he’s pleased with the outcome of the meeting so far.
“It shows up in practice, in your work habits, shows up if you’re taking little shortcuts off the ice,” Berenson said. “And pretty soon, you’re taking shortcuts on the ice. Mitera, he has made himself and proven himself as the leader of our defense, and now obviously, there’s responsibility that goes with that.”
But Mitera’s teammates haven’t noticed anything different about him since becoming assistant captain, on or off the ice.
When asked if Mitera had changed since January, freshman defender Tristin Llewellyn definitively responded with a sharp “No,” offering no further explanation.
Regardless of Mitera’s performance in the last few weeks, Berenson expects his alternate captain to be in top form for the stretch run.
“I think he’ll be back on track,” Berenson said. “I’ve made it obvious to Mark that (his effort) is important. That’s where his game starts.”