On Monday, just 51 days after appearing in the NCAA national championship game — the pinnacle of college hockey — Michigan forward Louie Caporusso took the biggest step of his young career.
The Ottawa Senators announced their signing of Caporusso — their 90th overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft — to a two-year entry-level contract.
“I’m very excited to make this jump in my life, bring on new challenges and tests,” Caporusso said Tuesday. “The biggest excitement is being able to take another step toward hopefully making that final jump (to the NHL).
“I wanted to be in Ottawa and I’m happy to be there. If it meant waiting for a little bit and waiting for the right deal, then so be it.”
While the signing was certainly applauded by Michigan hockey fans, many expected the crafty center to turn to professional hockey much earlier. As a sophomore, Caporusso scored 24 goals and 49 points and was a Hobey Baker finalist; he added 43 more points as a junior.
In the eyes of many around college hockey, Caporusso — along with fellow seniors Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin — was gone.
But something was missing. Caporusso left St. Michael’s College School in Toronto in 2007 to play under the watchful eye of Michigan coach Red Berenson, and he wasn’t willing to leave without a national title ring.
Caporusso returned for his senior season. And Berenson rewarded him by naming Caporusso an alternate captain for the 2010-11 campaign.
“I think the biggest thing me and Carl can do, and Rust, is bring a national championship here to the University of Michigan again and win one for coach Berenson and the coaching staff,” Caporusso said a week before the season began.
And while Caporusso struggled offensively (11 goals, 20 assists) and sustained a knee injury late in the season that sidelined him for three weeks, he was Berenson’s rock in the defensive zone and off the ice.
Caporusso and the Wolverines saw their dreams come crashing down in a 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four final on April 9.
Just days later, Hagelin, Caporusso’s best friend since arriving in Ann Arbor, signed with the Connecticut Whale, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.
“I’m the sort of person where I want to know where I’ll be and get goals in order to start trying to achieve those, so (the wait) got frustrating at times, but I knew I’d end up playing somewhere,” Caporusso said.
Berenson talked to each of his seniors before they graduated in late April, and he hit an important mark with Caporusso.
“(Berenson) told me that there’d be a lot of opportunities left — I’m still very young,” Caporusso said. “He basically told me to just work hard and don’t get too frustrated. Understand that there will be ups and downs in hockey, so be patient.
“He only gave great advice, there’s so much I could tell you about Red, but that was the biggest advice he gave me after the season was done.”
Finally, Caporusso inked his first deal.
He will attend a development camp in Ottawa at the tail end of June before working with the Senators at their training camp prior to the upcoming season. With the Binghamton Senators — Ottawa’s AHL affiliate — likely being Caporusso’s first stop in professional hockey, he’s hoping to make a favorable impression at those sessions.
“I need to play out of my comfort zone, that’s the biggest thing,” Caporusso said. “When you’re playing out of your comfort zone you’re developing as a hockey player and you’re getting better. If I’m playing comfortable then I’m not going to be noticeable out there.”
From the Senators’ perspective, they like what they’ve seen from the 5-foot-10 center, who scored 68 goals and tallied 144 points in 160 games at Michigan.
“(Caporusso’s) a skilled forward,” Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray told the Ottawa Sun. “He’s been a top scorer at Michigan and a top scorer wherever he has played. We like his skill level and the whole offensive package.”