PITTSBURGH — The Winnipeg Jets, like Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson, know the Wolverines are getting a special player in defenseman Jacob Trouba. So when Trouba was still available at the ninth selection of the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday night, the Jets snatched him up.
Trouba, watching with family as six defensemen’s names were called before him, waited patiently until Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff called his name.
Professional hockey will have to wait patiently for Trouba, as well. The self-described “two-way defenseman who’s responsible in (his) own end, and physical” made a commitment to Michigan in September 2011 — one he fully intends to honor.
When asked by a reporter if he might waver on that promise, Trouba remained adamant.
“I’m going to Michigan next year to play there,” Trouba said. “I’m excited to get my education underway and play for coach Berenson with those players in (Yost Ice Arena).”
The relationship between Michigan and the Jets is a new one, but the team also holds the rights to sophomore defenseman Brennan Serville. Berenson readily admits he isn’t as familiar with the organization as he is with others.
“We don’t know them very well, but we’re happy that Jacob was drafted,” Berenson said. “It must be nice for him to be recognized in the top nine in the world.”
Once Trouba does end up in Winnipeg — and the scouts that had him in the top 10 of nearly every mock draft believe it’s only a matter of time — it won’t be so unfamiliar. Trouba played at the MTS Centre as part of the World U-17 Hockey Challenge last year, and while he enjoyed the city, that’s hardly to say the city enjoyed him.
After colliding with the Canadian goaltender, the fans in Winnipeg made sure to boo Trouba on every ensuing puck touch. But Trouba is thrilled to return to what he considers to be a suitable new home.
“It’s a great city with a lot of hockey tradition,” Trouba said. “I know they were pretty excited last year to get a team back. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
The Rochester, Mich. native paused to make a mental note of what to pack.
“It’s pretty cold (there). I’m going to have to get the boots out.”
Winnipeg seemed a likely target for Trouba entering the draft, and he noted that the club gave him positive signals during their interactions. The Jets met with Trouba in Pittsburgh earlier in the week, which only made him listen more intently when the Winnipeg first-round slot came up.
“You never know what’s going to be a good fit for a player down the road,” Berenson said. “You never know if an organization is more desperate for players to come in even though they might not be ready.”
But Trouba made sure the Jets and Cheveldayoff understood his one condition before he placed the Winnipeg sweater, with his name already stitched on, over his head. He told them he was Ann Arbor bound in the fall.
“They respect that,” Trouba said. “I’m glad they do. I was pretty clear that that’s what I was doing and they knew that picking me.
“I’m set on going to Michigan.”
Berenson wants his new blue liner to take it all in — and Trouba is happy to oblige.
After taking batting practice and nearly homering at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park on Thursday, Trouba napped Friday and spent time with family until the draft finally came. Saturday, he and the 35 family members that flocked to Pittsburgh converged on PNC Park once again to watch Trouba’s beloved Detroit Tigers play the Pirates.
But after that, the honeymoon is over.
“This is his day in the spotlight, and then tomorrow you go back to hard work to justify why you were drafted so high,” Berenson said.
Berenson and Trouba used the “hockey town” moniker to describe Winnipeg. Trouba, who grew up admiring Nicklas Lidstrom and the Detroit Red Wings, will feel right at home — once his Michigan days are over, that is.