During practice yesterday, defenseman Jason Dest skated toward goalie Al Montoya with the puck. After making a couple moves, Dest fired a shot that sailed left of the net.
Dest isn’t used to scoring many points — the sophomore has totaled just one goal and two assists through 26 games this season after racking up just seven points during his entire freshman year. But his contributions to the No. 4 Wolverines’ success are enormous.
“(Michigan coach Red Berenson) knows that I’m not going to be scoring goals,” Dest said. “For me to stand out at all, I have to do other stuff besides scoring goals, like playing tough and maybe getting some momentum with a big hit. You might not get all the fan notice for doing stuff like that, but everybody on the team knows their role and appreciates what they have to do.”
Though he grew up in Fraser, Dest spent his final two years of high school in Omaha, Neb. He lived with a host family while finishing his high school degree and playing with current Michigan teammate Tim Cook for the River City Lancers — a junior ‘A’ team in the United States Hockey League. Dest feels the experience was a positive step in his development. His host family was supportive, he gained an appreciation for the sacrifices his parents had made for him and his coach, Mike Hastings, instilled the work ethic Dest is known for today.
“It was unbelievable,” Dest said of his time in Nebraska. “I was a little nervous at first, but (my host family) took care of me.”
Dest credits much of his effort on defense to Hastings, who placed a strong emphasis on doing the little things, like blocking shots. Dest currently ranks fourth on the team with 15 blocks.
“Hastings is the kind of coach who’s really (an) in-your-face kind of yeller,” Dest said.
Now in his second year in Ann Arbor, Dest’s willingness to do the dirty work has paid off handsomely for the Wolverines. The sophomore is making a name for himself as the team’s biggest hitter — both in the open ice and along the boards — while acting as a safety valve for senior defensive partner Eric Werner, who thrives on skating into the action on the offensive end.
“I love having a partner who competes hard,” Werner said. “(Dest) has a good eye for (hitting). He knows when to step up. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman, and, if I jump into a play, I know he’s back there. He doesn’t put points on the board, but he can be one of the main guys out there throwing that game-changing hit or saving that last goal. I’m grateful to have him as a (defensive) partner.”
Dest prefers to joke about his lack of offensive skills relative to Werner, but the sophomore does have an impressive plus-14 plus-minus rating, the fourth-best mark on Michigan’s roster.
“When I get the puck, I just find Werner and give it to him,” Dest said with a laugh. “He always figures out what to do with it. The more he has the puck and the less I have it, maybe, the better.”
Berenson has already expanded Dest’s role on the team from last year by giving the defensive stopper increased ice time and a larger role on the penalty kill. But the coach realizes that it’s difficult for a player who doesn’t score often to be recognized for his contributions.
“A defenseman doesn’t get any praise for good things,” Berenson said. “He just gets criticism for bad things. That’s the world a defenseman lives in. (It’s all about) minimizing your mistakes.”
Berenson’s confidence in his sophomore blue-liner is growing. Though there are areas of Dest’s game that need work, his coach knows how important he is to Michigan’s fate this season and in future years.
“I look to Dest as a bread-and-butter defenseman,” Berenson said. “If he can’t give us solid minutes, then it really hurts our team.”