The afternoon before every game, junior defenseman Mike Chiasson and the rest of the Michigan hockey team sit together to watch film of the upcoming opponent. Afterward, the flat-screen TV displays the line pairings for the next day’s contest.

For much of the season, Chiasson has been disappointed to not see his name on those lists. After playing 30 games each year as a freshman and sophomore, the defenseman has earned little playing time this year.

When freshman Kevin Lohan suffered a torn lateral meniscus on Nov. 1, Michigan coach Red Berenson replaced him by converting junior Andrew Sinelli from a forward to a defenseman instead of turning to Chiasson. Even as the unit has struggled, allowing 33 shots per game, Chiasson has seen time in just seven games.

“I’ve been around hockey for a long time, and I know it’s not easy,” Chiasson said. “I have to come to the rink and be a professional every day. I understand that coach Berenson says I’m right there, but we have a solid six defensemen back there. I’m taking it in stride and I’m learning from it.”

Berenson’s game-day decisions are based heavily on a system he uses to rate each athlete’s performance. The coaches assign values to positive or negative plays and then compare them to individualized benchmarks. The players aren’t privy to the exact numbers, but they meet for progress reports three times per season.

“He’s a great kid and he’s worked hard, just like everyone else,” Berenson said.

The sparse playing time isn’t all Chiasson’s doing. Berenson admitted that he gave the freshmen preferred opportunities at the beginning of the season. Because Chiasson has seen such little time in games, coaches have had limited opportunity to rank his progress throughout the year.

“Players that are not in the lineup, the best way to get back in the lineup is to be lights out in practice,” Berenson said. “They’ve got to make practices their games.”

That hasn’t stopped others from earning roster spots, though. Sophomore Justin Selman and freshman Max Shuart both impressed enough to play against Michigan State last weekend, and though the roster for the Wisconsin series this weekend hasn’t been decided, Berenson said both will likely retain those roles.

No line pairing has been perfect. Against the Spartans last Thursday, junior Brennan Serville rushed off the ice for a change on the fly despite the play moving toward the Wolverines’ defensive zone. The resulting two-on-one nearly resulted in a Michigan State goal.

That’s just one of many miscues by a disorganized defense that has forced freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort into needing to regularly make spectacular saves.

Though Sinelli’s transition to defense has been a pleasant surprise, Berenson gives Serville mixed reviews. Wednesday, he explained that the junior “is just starting to put it together,” but that he has “really had to work hard to stay in the lineup this year.” Meanwhile, the coach said Chiasson has regressed at times according to his rating system.

“If a player has an off night or we feel like we need another guy out there, Chiasson hasn’t let us down,” Berenson said.

Added Chiasson: “If you can play a consistent game, the better chance you have to play in the lineup every single game. They make the decisions, and I support it.”

Until then, the junior promises to continue learning and fighting to stand out in the eyes of his coaches. And the day before every game, he’ll keep hoping to see his name on that flat-screen TV.

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