Michigan’s worst-case defensive scenario is quickly becoming a reality.
After Kevin Quick was dismissed from the team Feb. 1, the Wolverines’ roster went down to six game-tested defensemen. Now, that number stands at five.
Freshman defenseman Scooter Vaughan broke his jaw in an off ice incident, wrestling with a teammate late last week. He underwent surgery yesterday afternoon, but is unlikely to return for this weekend’s CCHA quarterfinal series against Nebraska-Omaha.
“Just the pain factor from the surgery today, he won’t be skating (today) or Wednesday,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “Maybe he will skate Thursday, but it will be a huge question mark this weekend.”
Berenson said Vaughan could be back this season because he had screws and plates inserted in the jaw, rather than having it wired shut.
Without Vaughan, the coaching staff is quickly moving to its backup plans and beyond. The defensive pairings were adjusted for yesterday’s practice with junior Mark Mitera, Vaughan’s pair mate, skating alongside freshman Chad Langlais. Sophomore Steve Kampfer and freshman Tristin Llewellyn were paired. The final duo featured sophomores Chris Summers and Eric Elmblad.
Elmblad, a walk-on from St. Ignace, appears to be the leading candidate to fill Vaughan’s spot, except for his inexperience. Elmblad has never played in a college game.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Elmblad said. “I’m practicing with the best team in the country every day.”
But the coaches aren’t guaranteeing the spot to Elmblad. Junior forward Danny Fardig skated as a defenseman yesterday and could be on the blueline if the coaches don’t feel Elmblad is ready to jump in to the fray for a playoff series.
Fardig last played defense during the Great Lakes Invitational his freshman year. He called those two games an “eye-opening experience.”
“Eric’s the defenseman, and he’ll have a leg up as far as playing,” assistant coach Billy Powers said. “But Danny has played some defense in the past, and he actually looked pretty good (yesterday).”
Fardig has always been a defensive-minded forward, and spent much of yesterday’s practice next to Mitera, looking for tips and asking questions. But he’ll have to learn as much as he can quickly.
Vaughan’s injury came at the worst possible time for Michigan. Nebraska-Omaha has the nation’s 12th-best offense, so an inexperienced defenseman will be in a particularly difficult spot this weekend. Additionally, the Mavericks’ leading scorer, Bryan Marshall, is likely to be back for the series after suffering a knee injury Feb. 15.
Kolarik back on top line: Senior alternate captain Chad Kolarik is closing in on a return for this weekend’s series. Kolarik, who went down with a serious hamstring injury while stretching for a puck Feb. 15, skated with the top line in yesterday’s practice.
“I like the direction he’s gone,” Berenson said. “He’s made significant strides to get where he is now.”
Kolarik has been undergoing treatment twice a day since he suffered the injury.
For the past week, he has concentrated on regaining his endurance, after spending more than two weeks off the ice. Kolarik will also work on getting back into contact drills during practice this week.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to put Kolarik back in the lineup will be made by Kolarik, Berenson and trainer Rick Bancroft. But Kolarik is feeling better every day.
“It’s not 100 percent, but it’s getting there,” Kolarik said.
Pacioretty named to all-rookie team: Freshman Max Pacioretty was named to the CCHA All-Rookie Team yesterday. Pacioretty was the only Wolverine named to the team and was one of two unanimous selections. With a talented 12-member freshman class, Michigan had the numbers to fill much more of the rookie squad.