This season, Yost Ice Arena has a brand new scoreboard, seating section and a team with 10 brand new faces.
The sights and sounds of college hockey echoed from Yost yesterday afternoon as the Michigan hockey team began its official practice schedule, hoping to answer some lingering questions about its upcoming season. With the Wolverines” season opener the “Cold War” game against Michigan State only two weeks away, head coach Red Berenson has only made a few decisions about the makeup of his lines and defensive pairings. But despite the uncertainty surrounding the lineups, the players are mainly concerned with getting themselves prepared.
“I think it was a good day,” Michigan captain Jed Ortmeyer said. “It was the first day so the guys were getting used to the coaches, but they were working hard and we had a good start.
“I think everyone is pretty up-tempo and the effort is definitely there. We”re not crisp with our passes yet, but as long as we”re working hard and skating well, you can”t really complain.”
With the Blue-White intrasquad exhibition game coming up Friday night, Berenson had the team concentrate on game situations and neutral zone play for the majority of practice. Overall, he was pleased with the effort put forth by the team.
“When you”re down on the ice with the team, you can not only see them, but you can feel them,” Berenson said. “You could feel the chemistry out there, and it felt good.
“It”s a different team than last year. I can”t tell you if it”s a better team than last year or how good a team it”s going to be, but I like the attitude out there.”
The team was divided into five forward lines and two defensive groups for the purpose of running drills. Although the lines weren”t randomly put together, Berenson said that the lines were hardly set in stone and that there are still many “ifs” remaining about several of his players and where they will end up.
Although it was their first collegiate practice, the freshmen were thrown into the fire right away. Several freshmen played key roles at practice and much is expected out of the young players for the regular season. Freshman Jason Ryznar, who was on the U.S. National Team when it plaed the Wolverines at Yost last year, skated alongside Ortmeyer and senior Craig Murray.
“I think it was fast-paced,” Ryznar said. “Last year, I played juniors and this was definitely a little faster, but hopefully in a few days we can get up to speed. It really feels good to be playing with the older guys they gave me pointers in drills and told me where to be.
“Personally I felt a little bit nervous today with the coaches out there, but I think I should be able to pick it up out there soon.”
Among other veterans, Ortmeyer was pleased with the effort put forth by Ryznar and the other freshmen.
“I think they look great,” Ortmeyer said. “They were working hard and they”re very enthusiastic. Hopefully they can bring a lot of energy to the team. It”ll be really exciting this year.”
Along with youth, injuries are another factor hindering Berenson”s ability to determine his lines. Currently, four veteran players are not skating due to a variety of injuries. Michigan”s best forward entering this season, junior Mike Cammalleri, is sidelined with a hip injury.
“The injury has to do with my hip flexor muscle,” Cammalleri said. “I injured it in the summer, but I don”t think it”s too serious. It”s been on and off, but I tweaked it a little bit recently so I am going to sit a couple days. It”s a day-to-day injury so I don”t know when I”ll be back, but hopefully we can play it by ear.”
Juniors Jay Vancik and Mark Mink are sidelined with a separated shoulder and a broken finger, respectively. Berenson said that both could possibly return to the lineup by the end of the week. Finally, sophomore David Wyzgowski is unable to play due to a swollen spleen.
With four veterans unable to suit up for practice, Berenson focused mainly on basic team drills in order to get the freshmen accustomed to the team”s style.
“I wanted the team to get comfortable in game situations today,” Berenson said. “We worked a lot on neutral zone play and breaking out of our own zone.”
The team cannot help but look ahead to its season opener on Oct. 6 at Spartan Stadium. Weather permitting, the game could turn out to be one of the most memorable events in college hockey history. Still, Michigan wants to take full advantage of its exhibition games this weekend to prepare for its monumental season opener.
“The Blue-White game is going to be important for us,” Ortmeyer said. “We”re going to use that game to prepare for the “Cold War” game. We have to go out and take it as seriously as we can and make sure we execute as much as possible.”