Freshman goaltender Al Montoya will be feeling a little extra pressure when Michigan meets the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 team tonight. It’s not that the game is particularly important – the exhibition doesn’t count toward the standings – or that the Wolverines will be relying on him any more than usual. But there is one reason he doesn’t want to let in any goals.
“I’ll never hear the end of it,” Montoya said. “All those guys are my best friends and till the day I die they won’t let me (hear the end of it).”
Montoya spent last year with the Under-17 team, but instead of moving on to the Under-18 squad, he fast-tracked through high school so he could join the Wolverines. The US-NDTP program is based in Ann Arbor, so Montoya still gets to see his old teammates on a weekly basis, and he said playing against them will probably be a little weird.
Montoya’s not the only one who will find the US-NTDP’s red, white and blue jerseys familiar. Michigan has six current players who came through the program, and four will dress tonight.
But once the teams hit the ice, there won’t be any mixed loyalties. The Wolverines (2-0 CCHA, 5-1 overall) hope to continue the strong start to their season, and they know the U.S. players would love to upset the fifth-ranked college team in the country.
“You know the kids on the other team are going to try and prove something,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “They’ll play one of their best games of the year against Michigan.”
The game may be a little more intense than an average exhibition. The US-NTDP roster features the best young players in the country, and the team is 3-6-1 against college squads this season, including a 4-3 loss to Michigan State.
“They’ll be competitive,” Berenson said. “They’re skilled, they’re quick, they’re fast. They’re just like playing another Division I team, except they’re a little younger. I mean, you wouldn’t want to play them when they’re all 20 years old.”
Berenson will use the game to look at some Wolverines who haven’t seen much ice time this season.
“It’s early in the year and our team is still finding ourselves,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent in terms of our health, but we’re also not 100 percent in terms of our depth chart and who’s who, and who can play and who can’t.”
One guy who hasn’t played is defenseman David Wyzgowski. The junior, who switched from forward to defense in the offseason, will dress for the first time since the Toronto exhibition on Oct. 5. Redshirt freshman Reilly Olson has been filling in on the blue line for junior Andy Burnes, who’s out with mono, but tonight could be Wyzgowski’s chance to prove he’s ready to be the sixth defender. Backup goalie Noah Ruden and forwards Charlie Henderson and J.J. Swistak also stand to play extra minutes.
Defenseman Mike Roemensky will be scratched to make room for Wyzgowski, and captain Jed Ortmeyer will also sit out, unless Jeff Tambellini, who took a puck off his foot in practice yesterday, can’t skate.
Despite its altered lineup and the break in CCHA competition, Michigan still hopes to have a productive weekend.