In past years, the Michigan hockey team has opened its regular-season schedule against either a highly ranked team or an absolute creampuff.

Ice Hockey
Senior alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki and the Wolverines begin their season tonight against Quinnipiac. Michigan begins the season ranked No. 8 in the country, despite having an 11-person freshman class. (RYAN WEINER/DAILY)

But just like everything involving the Wolverines this season, things are different now.

Michigan will begin its regular-season slate against a Quinnipiac team that is neither highly ranked nor a pushover.

The Wolverines know they cannot overlook Quinnipiac just because the Bobcats come in with relatively little hype. In fact, Quinnipiac received two votes in the latest USCHO/CSTV Division I Men’s Hockey poll.

“They are a little bit more experienced than us,” senior alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki said. “They are going to be excited to come in here with the idea that they are going to knock us off. So we just have to be ready for that.”

After last season, the Wolverines lost nine seniors to graduation, as well as two juniors to the NHL. This forced Michigan to bring in 11 freshmen to fill the void. Although the newcomers don’t bring much experience to the table, Michigan coach Red Berenson thinks they will help in other facets of the game.

“They are nervous and excited for the game, but they are willing to do whatever it takes,” Berenson said. “And that’s really the attitude you are looking for when you’re the coach.”

Because of the influx of young talent, Michigan has no idea if it really is as good as its No. 8 preseason ranking. The current team has only been practicing with coaches for about a week.

“At the start of the year, everyone is a little bit like us,” Berenson said. “You think you’re good but you don’t know how good you are. No one has really lost a game and nobody’s coming in with a slump.”

An interesting subplot during this weekend’s series will be the goaltending for both teams.

Senior Josh Siembeda stands between the pipes for Quinnipiac. In the second game of the 2002-03 season, Siembeda was the goaltender for North Dakota when it defeated Michigan 5-4 in overtime. He transferred to Quinnipiac after that season.

Meanwhile, Michigan has yet to decide on a permanent netminder. Freshman Billy Sauer was slated to be the starter from the outset of the season, but his poor showing in the Blue/White Scrimmage last Saturday, in which he let in six goals, has put his status in jeopardy.

“It’s either going to be Sauer or Noah (Ruden),” Berenson said. “But I want to see Billy Sauer get some home-ice experience in important games. They might each start one game this weekend. We’ll have to wait and see.”

This weekend’s series against Quinnipiac should give the Michigan faithful a good indication of what this team can accomplish. The core group of freshmen – including Jack Johnson, Andrew Cogliano, Mark Mitera and Sauer – will finally be able to prove that they are for real.

“The freshmen all have big roles on the team this year because there are so many of them and we don’t have enough upperclassmen to fill all the roles,” Kaleniecki said. “We expect a lot of them.”

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