Michigan started the year with a young defense and expected to rely heavily on junior and alternate captain Andy Burnes. So when Burnes came down with mononucleosis two games into the season it was a tough loss for the Wolverines, both on the ice and in the lockerroom.
Burnes returned to action Saturday against Bowling Green, and while Michigan’s younger blueliners are glad to have him back, they held their own in his absence.
Michigan went 5-0 without him and boasted an impressive penalty-killing unit that denied opponents on 21 of 24 powerplay opportunities.
Freshman Danny Richmond produced five points, and redshirt freshman Reilly Olson, a stay-at-home defenseman, filled the sixth spot for four games. But three sophomores stood out in coach Red Berenson’s mind.
“With Andy Burnes out on defense, that was huge for Brandon Rogers and Eric Werner and Nick Martens to step up and really fill that (hole), and give us a chance, at least, defensively to be competitive,” Berenson said.
Rogers and Werner showed Burnes what they could do when he returned Saturday. Rogers neutralized two odd-man rushes in the closing moments of the third period in Saturday’s 1-1 tie, and Werner, who had a three-point night on Friday, added a physical presence.
Burnes has been especially impressed with Martens, the son of a former Michigan hockey player.
“Nick Martens has turned around completely from last year,” Burnes said. “He’s playing great this year.”
Werner, who has been paired with Martens, agreed and said that Martens is “taking on a new role.”
The Ann Arbor native, who skated in 17 games last year, scored his first career goal Oct. 25 against Alaska-Fairbanks and attributes his improvement to experience.
“I think the changes I’ve made and the steps I’ve been able to accomplish have to do with the mental part of the game and just being more prepared and knowing exactly what I have to do out there,” Martens said.
But Martens didn’t take too much credit for Michigan’s solid defensive play while Burnes was gone, saying that the defensemen stuck together.
“We know exactly the way each one of us plays, and there are no real individuals out there,” Martens said. “We are only as good as our weakest link out there, so we have to be real tight and count on each other in all situations.”
Both Martens and Werner said they’re happy Burnes is back in the lineup, but the younger defensemen won’t reduce their roles just because their leader has returned.
“I’m still going to go out and try and do the exact same things I was doing when he was out of the lineup,” Martens said. “We were successful when he was out of the lineup, which is a tribute to the character of the defense corps, but I’m going to continue to try to do the same things that … really gave me the opportunity (to contribute) and that earned me the playing time I’ve gotten.”
Homecoming: Forward Mike Cammalleri, who left Michigan for the pros over the summer, will face his home-town team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, tonight in his third NHL game. The Los Angeles Kings called up Cammalleri, a native of the Toronto suburb of Richmond Hill, from the AHL last Thursday.