Look next to Reilly Olson’s name on the stat sheets for Michigan’s games against Merrimack last weekend, and you’ll find a string of zeros. No goals, no assists, not even a shot on net.

Paul Wong
Reilly Olson saw his first action as a Wolverine last weekend.

But the fact that his name appeared on the stat sheets at all was enough to make it a huge weekend for the redshirt freshman.

After watching last season from the stands, unable to crack the lineup, Olson finally earned the Michigan coaching staff’s trust and played his first collegiate game Friday night, filling in for an ill Andy Burnes.

Olson came to Michigan last year expecting to compete for ice time with the rest of his highly-touted class, but had trouble adjusting to college hockey. Olson lost confidence and could never get comfortable, but tried not to get too frustrated.

“Obviously it was pretty tough at times, waiting so long, but I just had to keep believing in myself,” he said. “I just came into this season with a new game plan, I guess. I just decided to start all over, and the coaches let me start all over, too.”

With high-scoring freshman Danny Richmond arriving on the blue line, it looked like Olson’s new start had come too late. The beginning of the 2002-03 season found Olson in a familiar place – in the stands, watching. So when Burnes came down with mono, Olson was more than ready to step in.

Sophomore Eric Nystrom, who roomed with Olson last year, was almost as happy as the young blueliner.

“I was excited just sitting across the room and looking at him put his jersey on,” Nystrom said.

Olson said he was nervous before the game, and he looked tentative on the ice, but he played well enough to earn a second start Saturday night.

Burnes is expected to miss at least two more weeks, but coach Red Berenson hasn’t decided who the sixth defensman will be this weekend. Olson will have to compete with David Wyzgowski to hang on to the open spot, and he knows he has to concentrate on playing solidly in his own zone.

“I have to make sure to keep the puck out of the net, not worry so much about offense,” Olson said. “If I do that, I’m sure offensively, some production will come. My No. 1 goal is I just have to make sure I’m always focused on defensive play.”

On the mend: Forward Jason Ryznar practiced yesterday for the first time since separating his shoulder October 12. Alternate captain John Shouneyia, who has a fractured right wrist, isn’t ready to play yet, but Berenson said he is progressing “really well.” Shouneyia had the stitches removed from his wrist yesterday afternoon.

Horsing around: Ryznar had a new linemate when he returned to practice. Freshman Andrew Ebbett centered Ryznar and Jed Ortmeyer, replacing Milan Gajic. Berenson said he is still searching for the right line combinations and uses an equestrian metaphor to convey his objective to the Wolverines.

“If one horse can pull 5,000 pounds, but two horses can pull 20,000 pounds, what’s the best of the two?” he said. “The message is, if the two work together, they’re much better than the sum of their parts. I want to find the combinations that can be more productive.”

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