Heading into its first exhibition game of the season, expectations are running high for a Michigan hockey team with preseason rankings singing its praises.
On Oct. 3rd, the CCHA released its polls, with the media ranking the Wolverines first in the conference and the coaches poll perching Michigan at No. 3.
The CCHA also named several players to the preseason all-conference teams. Junior defenseman Jon Merrill earned eight first-place votes. Sophomore forward Alex Guptill and senior defenseman Lee Moffie were voted to the second team, and senior forward A.J. Treais was an honorable mention.
Adding to the prospective accolades, USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine both elected Michigan to the third-place slot in the national rankings, just below the reigning NCAA champion Boston College and Minnesota.
“No one’s played a game yet,” said junior defenseman Mac Bennett. “We don’t know how we stack up against other teams, so is it nice to have a number one ranking? Yeah, sure. Does it mean anything? No.”
Michigan will face off against Windsor in the newly-renovated Yost Ice Arena in an exhibition Tuesday night. The Wolverines hold a perfect 3-0-0 record in the all-time series against the Lancers, capped by their last meeting in 2009.
Three years ago, Michigan coach Red Berenson compared the Windsor exhibition to previous matchups with Canadian teams, noting the Lancers’ “better” performance.
Treais, then a freshman, opened up the scoring with a second-period goal against Windsor. He notched an assist in the same frame en route to the Wolverines’ 6-2 win.
But with a handful of freshmen stepping into the graduated seniors’ big shoes this year, anything goes.
“Every year you lose a crop and a new one comes in,” Treais said. “You can see that someone’s going to step up and take a Shawn Hunwick’s place or Luke Glendening’s place.”
Highly touted freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba has impressed his teammates thus far with his physical play. On June 22, the Rochester, Mich. native was the ninth-overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL Entry Draft.
“He’s got a really high hockey IQ,” Bennett said. “I think you’re going to see him destroy guys. … When we let him loose against another team, I think you’ll be able to see some exciting hits.”
With Hunwick’s graduation in the spring, the Wolverines were left with a question mark in the crease. Rutledge remains the hopeful favorite, but recovery from eye surgery and missed ice time delayed the netminder decision.
He started taking shots late last week, but Berenson was left uncertain as to who would stop pucks between the posts against the Lancers. But Rutledge’s timely return keeps him in the forefront of goaltending options.
“My hope is that if he feels really good after (the Blue/White) game and he feels good tomorrow and looks good in practice then we’ll decide tomorrow,” Berenson said Sunday. “But that’s the direction we’d like to go.”
On Monday, Berenson said Rutledge will only play one period against Windsor with junior Adam Janecyk and freshman Steve Racine splitting the other two, according to Michael Spath of The Wolverine Magazine.
A healthy goalie will be necessary against Windsor, with forwards Evan Stibbard and Ryan Green, who led the Lancers last season with a combined 55 points — 26 goals and 29 assists.
The Lancers has already seen a fair amount of competitive action in the preseason with three wins and lone loss to Michigan State. On Monday, Windsor’s streak snapped, dropping a 6-1 decision to the Spartans.
The Wolverines opened the season with their annual intrasquad game on Sunday, when Guptill recorded a hat trick in the fast-paced two-period scrimmage.
With the majority of offensive standouts returning this year — seven of the top 10 scorers — and a strong defensive anchor, the Wolverines main concern rests in the goal cage.
Despite that, Moffie remains confident in the preseason ballots.
“Yeah, we’re Michigan,” Moffie said. “We’re expected to be the number one team in the country every year.”