Against Penn State on Nov. 22, Tony Calderone skated toward the glass with his fists up after tipping in what looked to be his first career goal. Upon further review, his stick was above the crossbar and the tally was disallowed.
But the freshman forward wouldn’t take long to make up for it. In the third period Saturday night against RPI, skating on the first line for the first time this season, Calderone received a pass from sophomore forward Tyler Motte, firing a shot past RPI goaltender Scott Diebold to put the Michigan hockey team up 5-0.
“(Being on the first line) was a huge surprise,” Calderone said. “I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to try to make the best of it, and it worked out. It was definitely unexpected.”
On the first line with Motte and junior forward Andrew Copp, Calderone finally looked healthy and confident at the collegiate level.
“For a little bit there, it took me a while to get back, especially getting hurt as a freshman still adjusting to the game,” he said. “It took me a little bit longer to adjust, but I think I’m back to 100 percent, and I keep getting better every day.”
A No. 1 overall pick in the United States Hockey League in 2012, Calderone’s collegiate debut was delayed several times due to a lingering groin injury. When he was cleared to practice before the Wolverines’ home opener against New Hampshire, Calderone tweaked his groin once more and was sidelined another week.
The Trenton, Michigan, native — who scored 41 points in 60 games with the Sioux Falls Stampede last season — started his season on the fourth line, playing right wing alongside senior center Travis Lynch, showing glimpses of the touted power forward Michigan coaches thought they’d recruited.
Though he didn’t tally his first point until Nov. 15, an assist against American International, Calderone maintained his spot in the lineup, even after Michigan was swept at Michigan Tech. His play forced Michigan coach Red Berenson to shuffle the forward lines more than once.
“I’ve always been a coach that gives the freshmen every opportunity to show what they can do and see how ready they are to help the team,” Berenson said. “It hasn’t been that easy for some of the other freshmen. … But they all know I’m going to give them the chance.”
In practice, before the Wolverines’ home series against American International, Calderone and senior forward Andrew Sinelli wore mismatched jerseys and socks, signaling that the players would skate with both the fourth and first lines.
Though Sinelli was given the nod that series, it was Calderone who made the most of the opportunity to skate on the front line last weekend.
“I hadn’t seen Tony play, the other coaches did,” Berenson said. “They thought it would take some time, but it was hard to even get a handle on him in practice because he got hurt right away. He had to work his way up.”
Calderone’s first multi-point game was a part of a six-point night for the first line, including five assists. Motte, who played hero with a goal in a comeback win on Friday, had three assists of his own.
With Calderone on the top line, the Wolverines notched their most complete offensive performance of the season. Michigan’s power play went two-for-four while his line contributed to five goals in the 6-0 victory.
After only one game, Calderone proved himself worthy of practicing with a first-line colored sweater with socks to match, and the Wolverines’ record improved to over .500 for the first time this season.
“I don’t know if he’ll be a front-line player as we go on the second half of the year, but I like what I see right now,” Berenson said. “Sometimes it’s how you compliment the other players, it’s not what you do.
“It’s what you do to help them, and vice versa.”
Note: Freshman forward Dylan Larkin, freshman defenseman Zach Werenski, sophomore defenseman Michael Downing and sophomore forwards JT Compher and Tyler Motte were selected to the USA World Junior Team preliminary roster Tuesday. The final 27 selections will be made prior Dec. 24 following training camp, which will be held in Boston, Massachusetts. beginning Dec. 16.