Three freshmen, two spots and fierce intrasquad competition in practice.

That has been the formula for success for the Michigan hockey team’s defensive unit, which boasts just one upperclassman.

Freshmen Scooter Vaughan, Tristin Llewellyn and Kevin Quick have shared two spots on the ice all season. This has given them game experience that they would otherwise miss out on.

Three weeks into the season, all three have played at least one game each weekend, while one has scratched for each game. With the rotation, each defensemen plays both games every third weekend. Vaughan got the nod for the Wolverines’ first road trip, playing against both Minnesota and Boston College. He will skate in both games against Nebraska-Omaha this weekend.

The other freshman defender, Chad Langlais, has had a spot in the lineup every weekend, because he had more experience coming into college.

“(The rotation) helps because everyone gets right on the ice,” Vaughan said. “It’s a whole different game here than we’ve been playing. It gets us all on the ice, it gets us ready to play and it gets us comfortable playing with all the other defensemen.”

Added Llewellyn: “We each get to play against big teams. I know some junior teams sometimes won’t let a new guy play at all, and then all of a sudden he has to jump in the lineup. He just doesn’t stand a chance.”

The rotation has also made practice more intense, the freshmen said. Because there are three of them and just two open spots, practice can get pretty competitive with each trying to distance himself from the other two.

“I have to play practice like it’s a game,” Vaughan said. “Be physical, make big passes on the tape — just do the little things and hopefully the coaches will put me in.”

As much as the team will attest to the rotation’s effectiveness, the statistics may be even more convincing. Two of the rotating freshmen defensemen, Vaughan (+1) and Quick (+2) have positive plus-minus ratios through four games played. Llewellyn isn’t too far behind, sitting at -1.

No. 3 Michigan (2-0-0 CCHA, 5-1-0 overall) is giving up just 2.5 goals a game largely because of scrappy defensive play.

With the rotation working so smoothly, Michigan coach Red Berenson sees no reason to change it.

“We’re definitely watching them, evaluating them, week-in and week-out,” Berenson said. “I like the direction they’re all going. I wouldn’t say there’s been much separation from game-to-game between the three of them, but I think they’re all improving.”

Berenson said the freshman defensive talent will get one of its biggest tests of the young season this weekend. He said Nebraska-Omaha (0-2-0, 1-2-0) is more talented offensively than either Northern Michigan or Boston University, which combined for just eight goals in four games against the Wolverines.

Although the Mavericks’ record leaves something to be desired, their two losses came at the hands of the No. 1 Miami (OH) last weekend. In last Saturday’s game, Nebraska-Omaha hung with the RedHawks into the third period before falling behind 5-2.

“(Nebraska-Omaha) will play that really-come-after-you style,” Berenson said. “They (play like Boston University), but they’ve got more skill. They’ll be scrappy. . Listening to the coach talk, he was pretty happy with how they played on the road with one of the top teams in the country (Miami).”

For today’s game, Vaughan and Llewellyn will most likely skate. When they both dress, Michigan has given up just six goals. Vaughan and Quick will play Saturday night.

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